The Combustible Jury

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Nothing so binds a personal injury jury together more than the desire to be set free never to return.

And none spend other peoples’ money so easily or at greater velocity nor more generously than that same personal injury jury.

All the jury wants to do is go home to a previous life that seems serene by comparison to the incredible tragedy that has been portrayed by plaintiff’s counsel and the unassuming normalcy of the incident that has been explained by the defense.

The first thing Judge James Bascomb said upon being introduced that first day with the bailiff’s, “All rise,” was to abjure everyone to sit and that’s the last time you will be asked to stand.

“We’re a progressive courtroom. We don’t stand for anything but justice.”

Approximately ninety people waited to endure voir dire. Many were culled and few were chosen. They were told this was a bicycle versus automobile personal injury case. The jury was not to consider whether or not insurance was involved.

A show of hands for hardship cases and foreign speakers with limited English. They were released. A name was called, that person took the next available chair and answered questions read from a list on the far wall. Each was asked if they drove a car, rode a bike or took Muni. Any who said they were in the medical profession and capable of reading an MRI or CT scan was let go. One potential juror said he could not be impartial because he was not willing to give $1 million to a plaintiff.

“Well, I don’t believe you, but you’re excused,” said Judge Bascomb.

Questioning ended when both sides and the judge agreed that person should be kept.

The first person to be empanelled wore a T-shirt with a cartoon panda bear displayed on his chest. Harold did not catch the name, but during the rest of the proceedings thought of him as The Pixar Guy.

Penelope was the fifth accepted. She said she rides a bike exclusively. Everywhere.

Harold stated he was retired and now writes journalism and fiction.

“Does writing pay well?” the Judge asked with a wide smile.

“No one who writes makes any money unless they are named Stephen King.”

Harold became juror number seven.

Walter was a retired attorney somewhat older than Harold. Although it is a truism in the legal profession that lawyers make the worst jurors, he became the eighth.

One potential juror said she rides a bicycle for pleasure, drives to work and takes Muni.

“When do you use Muni?” Whiskey asked.

“When I have to come here.”

Finally, fourteen were empanelled, two of them alternates.

Judge Bascomb explained plaintiff goes first represented by The Whiskey Law Firm, James Whiskey and Brian Mallory present. A young couple shared the table with them.

Defendant’s counsel was Michael F. Greene. Next to him sat a gray haired older man, short with a slender moustache.

In his opening statement, Mister Whiskey addressed the jury saying, “This case is about the sudden opening of a car door, negligence and permanent brain damage.”

He told the jury that plaintiff was damaged by defendant which will affect her in the future, probably as long as she lives, and wants money damages sufficient to compensate her for the rest of her life. This includes past medical and chiropractic costs, lost income from two sources plus damages to bicycle and helmet. She is asking for future working-life income to compensate for earnings she will not have due to the lowered mental acuity she endures.

“As a result of the accident,” he explained, “Grace now has a problem prioritizing, focusing and keeping up with the requirements of her job at the non-profit where she works. She has memory issues due to a head injury she suffered when she hit the pavement. She claims permanent brain damage, daily headaches and regular dizziness now and forever. Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals Four and Five will be introduced.”

“She is not malingering,” Whiskey said in conclusion.

Defense agreed there was an accident, but it is unclear what, exactly, occurred.

“In fact, initially liability was denied,” Greene said, “but we’ve come a long way here.”

Greene said defendant wishes to pay for medical expenses and chiropractic, the bicycle, helmet and torn jeans and a year of recovery. They will even give money as recompense for a perceived slight that has been extrapolated from the incident, but not to the end of plaintiff’s life.

“It was an accident, pure and simple.”

That was the duty the jury would be given to deliberate: Thirty thousand or one and a half million. Testimony began October 8 and lasted until Friday, the 24th.

Before evidence began, Greene asked, “May I speak with you your honor?”

The judge answered so that everyone could hear: “You can talk to me, but it will be an entirely unsatisfactory experience.”

Then judge and counselors retreated to a back room.

Upon return, Judge Bascomb took his seat high above all others in the room, pointed out the plaintiff seated next to Mallory and said, “She looks whole, but that is why we are here: Looks can be deceiving.”

Juror ten, Malcolm, raised his hand. Bascomb acknowledged him.

“Are we allowed to ask questions?”

Yes, but no. The jury was not allowed to raise their hands if they had a question. Instead, Judge Bascomb told jurors to write on a piece of paper which they were to hand to the bailiff at a convenient time, such as at a break in the proceedings.

As he gave out a pen and notebook to each of the fourteen, the bailiff introduced himself as Court Clerk Shasha.

“Be on time, everyone, or last one buys cookies. That’s the tradition.”

Although the defendant and his wife remained throughout the entire trial, the plaintiffs, Grace and her husband, departed after they gave testimony and were never more to be seen. The jury received the case Monday, Oct. 27, and concluded deliberations the next day.

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