Thursday, October 19, 2006

Jury Experience

Now that the trial is over, I can say more about it.

While we were still in the big jury pool room, they polled everyone to see if they had any connection to State Farm insurance - policyholder, employee, stockholder. One lady behind me was SO excited to be able to reply YES - she figured that meant she wouldn't be picked for a jury. Well.... they were picking for multiple juries - she got picked to be questioned for the first jury - I think that one was for the murder trial! I'm sure glad I didn't get picked for that jury. One of the dad's at Scouts did get picked and is still serving on that jury.

Anyhow, I got pulled to be questioned for the 3rd trial, a civil case in traffic court. I was sort of surprised when it came time for the lawyers to pick the jurors. I thought they went through the jurors one by one and okayed them or struck them. I figured I wouldn't get picked because I was juror 24 out of 27. But, no, the attorneys huddled and discussed us and then announced who all was on the jury. The rest of the people were sent to lunch and then had to go back to the jury room to be possibly selected for another round of jury questioning. Those of us picked got to go home, after some initial instructions.

Tuesday, we showed up and heard testimony all day. Just before lunch they warned us to load up on caffeine at lunch because there would be a 2+ hour video deposition after lunch. I don't normally drink much caffeine, but I made sure to have a large Diet Coke with lunch, or I knew I would never be able to stay awake. It's a good thing I did, since the lawyers were VERY thorough. They would ask the same question in several different ways. Or they showed some pain charts and they pointed out on each and every one of them how the patient's description of where the pain was, was different from where her surgery was. OK, we get the point already!

Wednesday, we came in after lunch since traffic court is held every Wed morning. That was nice, as I wasn't feeling so great. I was able to go back to bed after the kids left and get another couple hours sleep. That and some naproxen allowed me to get through the rest of the trial. First thing up when we got there was another video deposition, from a different Dr who reviews records. They said, don't worry this one is shorter. Well, yes, technically it WAS shorter, but it was still almost 2 hours! He was a bit more entertaining than the first Dr. and it was amusing to see him getting frustrated with the questions too: "I believe I've already answered that several times" came out more than once. But he would proceed to answer it again. I realize that this is probably a very effective technique, to show that its not just a one time occurrence, but to me, it feels like the jury is being treated like rather dim-witted children.

By the time the lawyers finished up with their closing arguments and the judge read us all of her instructions on the law and how to deliberate, it was about quarter til 5. We were sent to the jury room to pick a fore-person and decide if we were going to deliberate then or come back the next day.

We picked our foreman (not surprisingly, no one volunteered) and decided we would at least start deliberating. The defense basically admitted that the missed day of work following the accident and the immediate and short-term follow-up medical care was related to the accident. The plaintiff, however, was also trying to claim that medical care that BEGAN 2 YEARS after the accident was also related. We, the jury, did not buy that argument. We were able to decide on an amount for medical bills and lost wages fairly quickly (we even put in some money for partial missed days of work that the plaintiff hadn't kept track of, and therefore weren't itemized), but pain and suffering was difficult. The judge had told us that pain and suffering was up to the "enlightened conscience" of the jury. Well the jury's conscience wasn't very enlightened - we had a very difficult time deciding on an amount - or even on a method to come up with an amount. The judge came in around 6pm and asked if we were going to keep deliberating or if we were going to go home and come back in the morning. We were fairly close to a decision and told her so. Finally around 6:15, we had our number and were ready to return to the courtroom with our verdict. I'm not sure either side was particularly happy or unhappy with our verdict.

When you hear about big cases, they often report that the jury awarded $X in damages and $Y for pain and suffering. So we were surprised that we were asked to come up with a single dollar figure inclusive of:
medical bills
lost wages
pain and suffering.

All in all, it was an interesting experience, though not one I'm eager to repeat anytime soon. When I get my pay, I'll be putting that $75 (I think its $25/day) into a slush fund for some fun activity. I've already earmarked $20 for a gift card to a fabric store.


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