If you ever want to get out of a jury duty on a personal injury case, just tell ‘em you’re a doctor.
Being a neophyte to the judicial system, I found today’s brief experience interesting: just herd a bunch of bodies into a room, show them a quick video, and violá, you’re a juror!
Then you wait. I had drawn a '#6' from a big tin can as I entered and discovered I was with Group 6 of the juror pool. It didn’t take long until our group number was called with two other groups, forming one Big Group. “Well, at least I’ll see how this works,” I thought. We were soon headed off to a courtroom two-by-two and took our seats.
The case to review involved a rear end vehicular collision – your basic civil case – no blood-and-guts criminal case for me. (Thank goodness). We were cautioned that this was the real deal - no Judge Judy or Law and Order or any other drama - just the drama between two individuals with one trying to get compensated, handsomely, for a rear-end collision and another individual trying to send the other packing with nothing.
I realized from the outset I identified with the defendant. After all, a car accident happened, didn't it? But the plaintiff's lawyer was careful to never say that word... no, he was going to try to determine if there was negligence and malice on the part of the defendant. It's not okay to have an accident on the road. Everyone must be perfect - everyone must know the "Rules of the Road."
I swept the room. Both the plaintiff and defendant seemed like solid citizens. Both appeared to ambulate without difficulty (each had to retire to the restroom once). Both seemed to hate each other (glares were exchanged on more than one occassion). My diagnostic eye was in overdrive - I examined the plaintiff carefully accross the room: gait normal, uses both hands without difficulty, turns head without difficulty, leans forward to speak to her lawyer without screaming, no rubbing of the neck, posture appropriate. In retrospect, it's probably best to avoid the diagnostic endeavor, but it's hard - it's like a moth being drawn to the flame...
Needless to say, I was rejected before getting out of the starting block.
“It says here that you’re a physician?”
“A cardiac electrophysiologist.”
Puzzled, the lawyer asks, “Is that like a cardiologist?”
“Yes, sir – an electrician for the heart if you will.”
“Have you ever treated patients for injuries after car accidents?”
“Yes, I used to be an emergency room physician for the United States Navy and treated many patients involved in car accidents.”
“Thank you, that will be all.”
Booooiiinnnggggg. Damn. Bounced out like a SuperBall on a hot, dry pavement. But it was still fun to see and participate in the process. I did get to sit through the jury selection process and observe. Soon the Lucky 14 were selected and we were dismissed. Here are a few of my revelations from my brief experience:
1) The accident involved occurred in 2002, and it’s now worked its way to a juried trial in 2007. Damn that’s a long time. I can’t imagine what the legal fees had been so far.
2) The verbal and communication skills coupled with the appearance of the lawyers matters greatly – at least to this prospective juror. The plaintiff’s lawyer remained seated during questioning of the jurors; the defense lawyer stood as he asked his questions – somehow, the defense attorney came off as more confident and secure.
3) Even where the jurors sat mattered, for reasons that were not clear to me.
4) Great lengths were made to assure the selection of jurors was truly random.
5) $17.20 is not enough pay per day for jurors.
6) In my non-scientific study, 14 initial jurors selected, ten (71%) had been in an auto accident some time in their life, and five (36%) had been involved in litigation for one of these accidents. Seems not everyone is perfect after all. Certainly, people have the right to sue their fellowman in our great country, and defendants have the right to due process. There will always be appropriate suits filed. But there still seems to lurk in the back of my head a feeling (especially when such potentially large sums are to be bestowed on the plaintiff while the defendant is happy to walk away with hefty legal fees), biases me to think that many try to take advantage of the system to make a buck. Lawyers, it seems, will never go out of business.
But the system as it is, worked. Although I did not get to stay for the trial, I pondered what I had been though. Somewhat reluctantly I reflected on the day and despite it all, I still feel damn proud of the judiciary here in the good ol' U.S. of A.