This week I was selected for a panel. No, not that one. The day after returning from Russia I had to report for jury duty and was selected. Just what one needs to catch back up after two weeks abroad.

The trial was civil. Personal injury. Really the stereotype of an ambulance-chasing lawyer with a plaintiff trying to milk an injury for all it is worth. In July 2000 the plaintiff was riding her bike along a relatively busy road. The defendant was stopped at a stop sign, looking left at oncoming traffic. He let his foot off the brake to idle forward and did not see the biker crossing from the right. They collided. The biker toppled over onto her knee. Ambulance came. Away she went.

The biker wasn’t badly injured. No cuts, a few bruises, clothing completely intact. She hurt her knee the worst and that was the crux of the case. The emergency room sent her home with some pain med after a clear x-ray. The biker never went to see her family doc but went to a couple of orthopedic surgeons and a chiropractor. The former could never find anything wrong with the knee, though they did not doubt that she was in pain — a pain that she described as debilitating, if intermittent, and one that prevented her from biking and other exercise. She undertook physical therapy six weeks after the doctor advised it.

Therapy seemed to help, but for some reason she stopped. Then, three years and nine months later she went back to the doctor. He found water on the knee but at this point could not say whether it was a result of the impact or of non-use.


The plaintiff wanted $6,000 in medical bill compensation, about $1.7k for salary lost, $25k for loss of normal life, and $25k for pain and suffering.

As on the only other jury I’ve been on, the drama and intensity of persuasion that went on in the jury room far exceeded that in the courtroom. The jurors actually elected me foreman — which was just as well; I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible so I got to control the pace of deliberation somewhat.

It came down to the bizarre gap of time between treatments and the sense that if she truly was in debilitating, normal-life-altering pain that she would have done something in the intervening years. That her lawyer was a bumbling slimeball and the defense attorney was sharp and concise didn’t help her case at all. In the end — though there was one initial juror hold out (isn’t there always?) — we arrived at unanimity by agreeing that a sufferer bears some responsibility in the successful outcome of one’s treatment. That is, if you smack me in the head with a bat, you are at fault. But if my doctor insists I need surgery and I refuse, I can’t hold you liable for what happens because I declined surgery. This is what happened with the biker and her strange lapses in treatment and physical therapy.

We awarded her recompense for most of her medical bills up until the gap in treatment. Nothing for salary. Uh, hello, it was a salary not a wage and she testified that the doctor gave her a note for work so that she’d be paid for the missed time. Nothing for pain and suffering. Nothing for loss of normal life. In a sense, a victory for the defense.

One thing we debated a bit in the jury room was the complete absence of mention of insurance. Some jurors really wanted to focus on it. Did insurance decline to cover? But since it wasn’t mentioned we couldn’t debate it. This irritated some jurors.

So, after two days on the Cook County payroll I was $34.40 wealthier and infinitely further behind in work. I will say that it was interesting to spend a week in China then a week in Russia then come back to the USA to engage in one of the only modes of direct civic engagement short of voting or military service. I’m not saying I was humming the national anthem or anything. Just agreeably content to be reminded of something quintessentially American.

2 Responses to “Impaneled”

  1. GC says :

    Insurance wasn’t discussed on purpose: it’s usually verbotten in such trials precisely because it may influence the jury if they know that the money isn’t coming out of the defendant’s own pocket. Even if her insurance paid, that isn’t admissible because her insurance would have subrogation rights, and would be entitled to receive payments from the defendant for injuries that they had already covered (like medical bills). Lots of law on this stuff.

  2. John says :

    Subrogation rights! Gotta get me some of them!