|The Verdict or how I Learned to Stop Worrying and Say Fuck the Justice System!
||[Apr. 25th, 2006|01:53 pm]
My trial ended yesterday after deliberations that lasted a day and some change.|
I was on the jury. Just over a week ago I reported for jury duty in downtown Los Angeles.
All that week (April 10th-14th) I had called in each night and each night I was informed that I wouldn't have to report until Thursday evening when fate decided to be cruel. I figured there was a good chance I wouldn’t have to serve. After all, no one I knew personally ever served on a jury. I knew people who reported, waited all day without hearing their names called and then went home, but I didn't think anyone actually served. I figured that jury duty was some third world problem you always hear about.
As fate would have it, I ended up being selected to serve on a jury of my “peers”. Yes, I screamed, cried, kicked and cursed. Fortunately for me, I suppose, I was selected for a civil trial which would only take 5-7 days of my life that I could never recover. My job only covers ten days of jury duty. This process managed to wrap itself up in seven.
The case, you ask? A woman slipped and fell on a bottle of shampoo at Food 4 Less somewhere in Watts. She and her council claimed that discs were ruptured in her neck and back, causing damage that made it impossible for her to live her life the way she used to.
Give me a second...as I’m writing this I feel anger rising inside my veins...just a second...okay, we’re back.
You should know that the lawyer this woman hired, a man named Kyle Madison, is the worst lawyer of all time. You show me your worst lawyer and I’ll laugh in your face. To give you an idea, just imagine if George W. Bush and David Brent from The Office had a bastard child and got it drunk and took it ice-skating. Oh yeah, and the bastard is retarded.
There was no preparation, no discipline, no nothing! How the fuck did this guy manage to pass the bar exam and then open his own law firm? Well, we found out at the end of the trial that Madison had been an insurance claim representative for 7 years and then a lawyer for the last seven. Here’s the kicker, this was his first trial. Surprise! Looking back on it now though, the “it’s my first trial,” excuse was just pathetic and insufficient.
On the first day of the trial during his opening statement, Kyle Madison had to stop and take a break because he admitted to feeling “nervous”. We took a 15 minute break on his behalf. When we came back he apologized to us because he had been staying up late preparing for the trial.
For the duration of the trial Kyle Madison was the drowning victim and Frank Dioro, the defense attorney representing Ralph’s and Food 4 Less, was the shark. I have the utmost confidence that every single person on the jury, and I’m not trying to be cute, would have represented the plaintiff better than Kyle Madison could have in his most fantastical dreams.
It is now a court ordinance that the juror’s be allowed to ask questions. We wrote our questions on little pieces of paper, sent them to the judge who reviewed them and then supplied them to the both sides. The lawyers would then determine which questions to ask.
Basically, time and time again we picked up the slack, asking all the pertinent questions Mr. Madison was to ass-backwards to think of.
Meanwhile, Frank Dioro, the council for the defendant was a bat out of hell. Every time Dioro got up he bitched-slapped Madison like a poor step child.
Here’s the difference. Kyle Madison had a partner from his firm and a paralegal in his employment helping to keep his fucking act together the whole time. He carried bags, files, briefcases and records because he didn’t want to miss a note. Frank Dioro, carried a binder containing all the medical records and records of operation for Food 4 Less, a binder that both sides were entitled to. Beyond that, Dioro just sat and listened, taking few notes while biding his time. All of a sudden, Bam! Thwok! Bitch Slap! Bitch Slap! As the trial wore on, Kyle Madison managed to help the defense council reduce him to a pile of coagulated residue.
It was sad, awkward, painful, embarrassing, and all of those words synonymous.
Whatever people tell you about trials depicted in television and films being dramatized and heightened is bullshit. Trials, even civil trials, are filled with flamboyant melodramatic lightning bolts. It is a fucking show to be sure. I have seen few plays, television shows or movies that twisted my gut the way that this trial did. It’s interactive, 3-D drama. I wish I had pop corn in my lap the whole time.
Here is what you need to know about the evidence and of course I’m biased because I voted:
Gail McCraney, a 42 year old black woman, walked in to a Food 4 Less store on April 23, 2003 (remember that date) in a hurry to buy some soda. Upon entering aisle 4 (the pop aisle) she slipped and fell on a saucer sized puddle of clear Herbal Essences (only one witness testified to the brand) shampoo.
Food 4 Less employees are required to inspect and sweep the premises once every hour. The accident occurred around 8:30 p.m. The “sweep sheet,” was signed off on at 8:10 and then not again until the following hour.
Of the 4 employees working that night who took the stand, they all testified to sweeping the floor at least once every 15 minutes or so even though they were only required to sweep once every hour.
The burden of proof required the plaintiff to convince the jury that Ralph’s was shirking their responsibility from the bottom to the top.
The reason they needed to prove this was because Gail McCraney claims to have received life altering, debilitating injuries as the result of her fall. Specifically, her council claimed that a jelly like substance found inside the bones between the discs in her neck (not unlike the air bubble cushions in the bottoms of some sneakers) had torn and ruptured inside of her, causing immeasurable pain.
Over the course of the trial we heard the testimonies of five expert witnesses, expert in reading MRI’s and X-Rays, four of which determined beyond the shadow of a doubt that her physical symptoms did not result from the trauma incurred. Instead, they determined that all of her physical symptoms and pain were the result of a pre-existing physical condition that occurs in every human being and may or may not cause severe pain.
After almost unanimous medical testimony my decision had been made. 4 out of 5 medical doctors declared that she did not suffer from the incident in question and according to Ralph’s policy the employees were only required to check and sweep the floor once an hour, which they often did every fifteen minutes.
Plus, Gail McCraney’s lawyer was an excuse for a human being who managed to prove not a goddamn thing. Kyle Madison’s only real strategy was to drag Gail McCraney’s kids into the court room and have them testify that their was a god fearing and wonderful person so that the jury would smother her with cash.
I hate Kyle Madison. He is a smug slime ball who shouldn’t be allowed a license. Frank Dioro is also sleaze personified but at least he’s good at his job which I find a lot less disgusting in this case.
In the spirit of playing Devil’s Advocate, I will impart you with two final pieces of information that will undoubtedly affect what you think. Ralph’s and Food 4 Less keep video cameras trained on every corner of every aisle of every store. As soon as an accident occurs, the video tape is reviewed and then mailed to the corporate office with a report of the incident, unfortunately Ralph’s claims to have lost the tape. The missing could be a sign of negligence but the more you dwell on it the more you delve into dirty corporate dealing which I believe to be another trial entirely.
With that said, the incident occurred literally 3 years ago. 3 years ago! The plaintiff filed suit two months ago. We have no idea what kind of injuries could have occurred during that time.
Three key pieces of information we as the jury weren’t entitled to or never had proven to us: 1.) How long the shampoo was on the floor 2.) How it got all the way over to the soda aisle and 3.) What Gail McCraney’s medical expenses were over the last three years.
So, we the jury, deliberated. It was our job to determine three things: 1.) Was Food 4 Less negligent? 2.) Was negligence the result of substantial injury to the plaintiff? 3.) What should the plaintiff be awarded in the way financial compensation?
Just to spare you the boring details of the deliberation I voted that Food 4 Less wasn’t negligent. So for me the point about determining substantial injury was moot. Unfortunately 10 of the other jurors voted that Food 4 Less was negligent (in a civil trial you only need 9 votes to reach a verdict). Most of my fellow jurors decided that Food 4 Less’s policy was evidence of neglect. They felt that a policy requiring store employees to sweep only once an hour was neglectful while admitting that Kyle Madison had failed to prove anything.
Next, was Food 4 Less responsible for causing substantial injury? No! No, I said. They weren’t neglectful so they weren’t responsible. Most of my fellow jurors even admitted that 4 out of 5 doctors testifying to no resulting injury was hard to beat. Then, somewhere in the deliberations we started talking damages awarded before we took a vote on substantial injury.
The average price was $50,000. I said zero. A few people wanted $125,000. I said zero. One man adamantly fought for a price tag of $250,000. I said fuck no.
Many passionate monologues were delivered, full of concern for the plaintiff and how deep in the whole she would find herself financially after all the lawyer and doctor fees. Some how, some of the jurors assumed that Gail McCraney would need money to pay for a $67,000 operation on her neck and spine, this after we all agreed that 4 of 5 doctors determined her injuries to be unrelated to the incident. How the other jurors arrived at $67,000 I have no idea. Meanwhile, my cynical self pictured Gail McCraney buying an island in the Bahamas and her lawyer paying for a weekend at the Bunny Ranch out of pocket.
Finally people were talking around $80,000. I said zero but if you had bent my arm I might have gone to $25,000 just so we could get the fuck out of there and go home.
At this point I learned how truly phenomenal the want and desire to just go home overwhelms the human spirit of the average juror.
I began to sense that what this deliberation was really about was broken hearts. 9 out of 12 jurors had their hearts broken by the poor old maternal lady living under adverse poverty and they wanted to stick it to corporate America even though we all admitted that the plaintiff’s council was a wanker who proved nothing and didn’t deserve to live.
I declared that we shouldn’t vote based on a vague sense of sympathy or revenge and the others vehemently denied that that was the case.
What I learned from this whole experience is that any time a little old black woman is the plaintiff in any case the other side is going down, without question. Reverse racism.
I think juries tend to think they are making a statement when they deliver a verdict. Unfortunately, despite my reasoning and indignation, they all seemed to think that Food 4 Less would change its store policy as a result of us finding them negligent. We didn’t even know if their store policy is an industry standard, what about all of the other grocery stores in the rest of the country? I was trumped and outnumbered.
There was a black button on the wall connected to a buzzer audible to the bailiff. We were supposed to push it twice when we reached a verdict.
After buzzing, the bailiff came and got us and we took our seats in the jury box. I was juror number 11.
After the judge reviewed the verdict he handed it to his assistant who read it aloud. As he read the awards for damages Gail McCraney started crying (She also cried when her daughter was on the stand talking about what a great mother she is. In all fairness, Frank Dioro never missed an opportunity to let us see him refill Gail McCraney’s cup of water. Insincere, schmuck).
Frank Dioro immediately had us polled after the verdict.
Polling is when each individual juror tells the court how they voted. Frank was not happy and so he was grabbing at straws. I was one of two or three people who voted no negligence, no substantial injury.
When it came to the issue of damages awarded, people gave varying numbers even though we had agreed on $80,000 inside the deliberation room, mostly because it was useless to debate anymore and we just wanted to go home.
I didn’t like it, I didn’t agree with it, but I made sure my indignation was registered and that’s all that I could do.
When they polled me about the damages awarded I went ahead and said $18,000 for lost wages, $31,000 for pain and suffering and $31,000 for future medical expenses.
It twisted my gut to do it and felt really wrong but I hadn’t managed to convince the jury of anything else and I did what was necessary so that we could all go home. Otherwise we would have gone back into the deliberation room and debate the price tag for several more hours or even days.
Once we were dismissed the lawyers on both sides wanted to talk to us out in the hallway.
One of the jurors asked what the terms of the settlement were, and why it didn’t succeed.
We learned that in the failed settlement, predating the trial, the plaintiff had requested $50,000 dollars and Food 4 Less was only willing to award $10,000.
I’ve never felt the stomachs of 12 people collectively drop. We all suddenly wanted to throw up. We had done what we feared the most: Awarded an exorbitant and obscene amount of money in a civil trial/frivolous law suit.
Mind you, had the plaintiff gotten $50,000 her lawyer would have received half of that. Now, we paid her stupid incompetent ass backwards lawyer $40,000 and depending on whether or not her injuries are founded, Gail McCraney is taking the family to EuroDisney.
One of my fellow jurors, a man named John who was a banker, sharply dressed at all times and on my side during the deliberation, kicked and cursed his way down the hallway, spitting anger over the fact that he wasted a week of his life over this bullshit.
The reason our stomachs turned all at once was because we could smell the tax payer dollars and the last week and a half of our lives turning to ash.
At least I’m not one of the people who voted in favor of this bullshit claim. That gives me some satisfaction although not much.
Without joking, I really can’t remember the last time I have felt so gross. I was forced by law to participate in something that I truly believe to be unjust and wasteful. I submit that there are meaningful civil law suits out there but I can also assure you that this wasn’t one of them.
I ran away from the lawyers as quickly as I could after the trial. They tried to corner as many of us jurors as possible just to talk shit about the other side and assure us of how petty they both were and are.
When they were talking to all of us in the hallway the cattiness was overflowing and they didn’t care that we were standing there in front of them or that the trial was over.
Before I was assigned to jury duty I was cynical about the process and was angry that a week and a half of my life would be usurped by some frivolous law suit. Post trial I’m just disgusted, having had all my worst fears realized and then some.
This is my advice: if ever you get called for jury duty then don’t do it. At least depending on what you think of the case, do whatever you can to get out. My biggest regret at the time was not telling both sides during the selection that I wouldn’t be able to be objective. I told them that I could be objective because I thought that’s what I supposed to do. I was wrong.
If you do get assigned then don’t settle if you disagree. Argue into the ground. Today I’m thinking of things I could have said to sway a few more people but this whole thing has been a learning curve and now I feel nauseated by the justice system. I started out as a cynic and now I just feel gross.