Jury Duty

I spent this past Monday through Wednesday serving on a jury at the Hays
County Justice Center here in town. Though most people are usually eager
to avoid jury duty, I had never been on a jury before, and was
interested to see how the whole process works and how it differs from
courtroom television. It turns out that a real trial is to CourtTV as
CSPAN is to Schoolhouse Rock — much more drawn out and less actively
entertaining, but with a rigor one hopes for when deciding matters of
some import.

The case was a civil one, which means that no-one is being tried for
breaking the law, but instead the plaintiff is seeking damages from the
defendant. The people being sued in this case were a family who’s young
boy was riding an ATV on their property in the country and had a
collision with a passing motorist. The boy was miraculously unhurt,
aside from a few scratches, even though he was flipped off the ATV which
spun away into some nearby trees. The woman driving the car didn’t end up
going to the hospital, but was seeking reimbursement for her subsequent
and future medical care, plus twice that sum for pain and suffering.

The decision ended up being a surprisingly difficult one for us. Though
the plaintiff’s previous medical history seemed to indicate that much of
what she’d been treated for was due to previous accidents, I felt
strongly that this incident was pretty much the little boy’s fault, since
it was evident that he’d been in the habit of riding into the street to
turn around, which is illegal to do on an ATV. Several of the other
jurors, however, felt that the driver of the car was at fault, since she
had been in a spate of other accidents, and admitted to being a bit over
the center of the unmarked caliche roadway when the collision occurred.

Though we only had 3 questions to answer, we deliberated from 3:30pm
until a bit after 9:00pm. I got to be the jury foreman, which mostly
meant that I got to ask people not to interrupt each other as we
discussed the issues in question. We were all more than ready to go home
by the time we reached a decision, which was that liability for the
accident was to be shared among the boy, his father (who had evidently
not tried to keep his son off the street), and the driver of the car. We
awarded the plaintiff a sum equal to a month of her medical care, since
that seemed consistent with the severity of the injuries she had
suffered as a result of the accident. Several of the jurors were
reluctant to do even that, since her care had been principally
chiropractic, with only an X-Ray to diagnose a claimed injury to her
soft tissues (which wouldn’t show up on an X-Ray).

Though I’m not anxious to repeat the experience again soon, it was
intriguing to get that kind of a glimpse into the workings of the
judicial system. It’s remarkable to see the sheer number of resources
that are mobilized to deal with these disputes, and by extension, what a
high value our form of government places on seeing justice done. At the
risk of sounding trite, it makes me a bit prouder to be an American.