Tuesday of this week I was to appear at the Travis County Court House for possible jury selection. Along with 45 others, I was number 28, I filed into the court room for voir dire from the attorneys representing the plaintiff and defendants. I had already filled out a basic questionnaire on-line. The judge explained that this was a civil trial and twelve of us would be selected.
The questions from the plaintiff’s attorney were convoluted and regarded punitive damages and mental anguish. Many of the potential jurors had problems giving money for mental anguish but, in general, I would have no problem with an award for mental anguish if the facts justified it.
After a few hours, it was selection time and I was chosen, number nine of twelve. We were seated in the jury box and sworn in. By now it was 1:00 PM and we broke for lunch. Upon our return the plaintiff’s lawyer gave his opening statement relaying the facts of the case. His client was a truck driver that had delivered a flat-bed loaded with palettes of stone for the construction of new homes. As the last palette was being off-loaded by the fork lift operator (one of the defendants), the truck driver was crushed as the rear of the fork lift (see photo) pinned him against his truck. He suffered multiple broken ribs and other injuries. This was in 2007. He is suing the fork lift operator and the owner of the stone company, the other defendant. He’s asking for $650,000 to $900,000 in damages for lost wages and pain and suffering.
The defense attorney then gave his opening statement. He cast doubt on the plaintiff’s current injuries citing affidavits, from subsequent employers of the plaintiff, of him performing heavy lifting without any problems. He also mentioned that the plaintiff’s doctor, whom the plaintiff’s attorney had mentioned in his opening statement, lived in Las Vegas. This sounded to me like a pay-for-pay doctor and I was immediately suspicious of any report from this doctor.
Then the plaintiff’s attorney called his first witness, the fork lift operator. Interestingly, he called one the defendants as a witness for the plaintiff’s case. The fork lift operator was a good witness for himself, probably had been through these questions during depositions. He seemed extremely competent at operating the fork lift. He was then cross-examined by his own attorney, who was also representing the owner of the stone company.
It was after 5:00 so we broke for the day. The next morning we filed into the jury box and the judge announced that the parties had reached a settlement, thanked us for our service, and we filed back into the jury room. Shortly afterwards the judge came into the jury room and talked with us and answered questions. I asked about the plaintiff’s attorney calling the defendant and he thought that was a shrewd move. I asked him if he thought the fork lift operator was negligent and he said no, which I also thought. The judge also explained that punitive damages require “clear and convincing” evidence rather than the “preponderance of evidence” of non-punitive damages. While talking about the jury system, the judge stated that of the hundreds of jury trials he has presided over and went to jury, he disagreed with the jury’s verdict only twice. He said the attorneys were in the hallway and wanted to talk with us but we were under no obligation to speak with them.
Only the defense attorney was in the hallway. He told some of us that the plaintiff’s attorney had called him the previous night and accepted a previously rejected offer of $75,000. Of that money, $45,000 will go to repay the truck driver’s workman’s comp claim.
Like most of the other jurors, I donated my $40/day jury pay to charity to avoid having to list it on my tax return.
I’d like to hear about your jury duty experiences.
-David Drumm (Nal)