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Brazeal v. Cooper

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

September 28, 2016



          James E. Keever and Ken Swindle, for appellant.

          Cox, Cox & Estes, PLLC, by: Walter B. Cox and James R. Estes, for appellees Scott Cooper, M.D. and Ozark Orthopaedic Clinic, LTD.

          Brian G. Brooks, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by: Brian G. Brooks, for amicus curiae Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association.

          LARRYD. VAUGHT, Judge.

         Harold Brazeal appeals from a 2013 Benton County jury verdict in favor of Dr. Scott Cooper and his clinic, Orthopaedic Clinic, Ltd. (collectively referred to as appellees), on Brazeal's medical-negligence claim stemming from complications from a total knee replacement. On appeal, Brazeal argues that (1) the trial court erred in refusing to strike the trial testimony of Dr. Cooper's expert witness, and (2) the trial court erred by refusing to strike three jurors for cause. We affirm.

         Brazeal sued appellees for medical negligence related to a total knee-replacement surgery that Dr. Cooper performed on him on December 20, 2011. The case went to trial in August 2015. After voir dire, Brazeal asked the court to strike a total of nine potential jurors for cause, of which the court excused two. Of the remaining seven, four were drawn for the jury panel. Brazeal used one of his peremptory challenges to remove one of these jurors but did not use his remaining two peremptory strikes. Three jurors to whom Brazeal had raised challenges were ultimately seated on the jury.

         During the trial, appellees called Dr. Frank Griffin as an expert witness. Dr. Griffin is an orthopedic surgeon who Brazeal stipulated was qualified under Rule 702 to testify as an expert. Dr. Griffin testified that he grew up in Arkansas, attended medical school in Arkansas, did his orthopedic residency in Arkansas, and had practiced orthopedic medicine in Van Buren since 1997. He testified that he was familiar with the standard of care in Benton County, Arkansas, and that there were no appreciable differences in how orthopedic surgery is practiced in the Rogers/Bentonville area versus Van Buren. He also testified that the communities of Rogers/Bentonville and Van Buren were similar in terms of the orthopedic services provided. Finally, he testified that he was active in the Arkansas Medical Society and had been on the Board of Trustees of the Arkansas Medical Society since 2005.

         After the conclusion of Dr. Griffin's testimony, Brazeal moved to strike all of Dr. Griffin's testimony because it failed to meet the requirements of the locality rule found in Arkansas Code Annotated section 16-114-206 (Repl. 2006). Appellees responded that the locality rule applies only to the plaintiff and alternatively, Dr. Griffin's testimony was sufficient to meet the locality rule. The court denied Brazeal's motion without comment.

         The jury returned a defense verdict. Brazeal filed a motion for new trial, again arguing that Dr. Griffin's testimony had failed to meet the requirements of the locality rule and should have been stricken. The court did not rule on the motion, and it was therefore deemed denied. Brazeal then filed a timely notice of appeal. On appeal, Brazeal raises two points for reversal: (1) the trial court erred in refusing to strike for cause the three jurors to whom he had objected who were ultimately seated on the jury, and (2) the court erred by refusing to strike Dr. Griffin's expert testimony in its entirety.

         Regarding the refusal to strike jurors, in Herrington v. Ford Motor Co., 2010 Ark.App. 407, at 3-4, 376 S.W.3d 476, 479, we explained,

Persons comprising the venire are presumed to be unbiased and qualified to serve, and the burden is on the party challenging a juror to prove actual bias. Berry v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co., 328 Ark. 553, 944 S.W.2d 838 (1997). The issue of a juror's qualifications lies within the sound discretion of the trial court and we will not reverse absent an abuse of discretion. Id.

         However, in this case, we cannot address the merits of Brazeal's objections to the three jurors because Brazeal admittedly chose not to use all of his peremptory challenges. Brazeal argues that, because there were three jurors to whom he had objected, he could not possibly have remedied the error by exhausting his two remaining peremptory challenges.

         Our case law is clear that failure to exhaust one's peremptory challenges waives the right to challenge the trial court's refusal to strike jurors for cause. In Sovereign Camp, W.O.W.v. Cole, 192 Ark. 268, 90 S.W.2d 769 (1936), the Arkansas Supreme Court explained that "where the record fails to show that the defendant had exhausted his peremptory challenges, his objection that a juror was improperly held competent is unavailing in the appellate court, because the failure to challenge is an implied admission that the juror was unobjectionable." Sovereign Camp, 192 Ark. at 270, 90 S.W.2d at 770 (citing Mabry v. State, 50 Ark. 492, 8 S.W. 823 (1888)). This rule has been subsequently reaffirmed. See Mason v. Loving, 251 Ark. 356, 473 S.W.2d 169 (1971); Burdick v. Little Switzerland Realty, Inc., 2009 Ark.App. 553 ("We will not consider arguments concerning jurors either accepted by appellant while he had peremptory challenges remaining or ...

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