Thursday, October 23, 2008

Juror #7

Dennis finally finished with his 3 1/2 week as a juror on a trial. Of course I did not have any idea what the trial was all about till he got home yesterday, because only then could he finally talk about it. He was so excited to serve on a jury! He had never been chosen before. We were all shocked he was chosen this time considering his history in law enforcement. And not only that, but he also got chosen by the other jurors to be the foreman.

So hearing what the trial was about, stirred some emotion in me. First I'll let Dennis describe the trial. Yep, I have a guest blogger. Sorry it is long, I told him to keep it short but he thinks this is short. It is written like a cop making a report. Here he is:

"The story started one evening when a husband and wife went out to celebrate their wedding anniversary. They went dancing at a nightclub and, according to her, he had "a couple of beers." She said that they got into an argument and he drove away in the car they came in, leaving her at the club. She then got a friend to take her home. At about 11 PM, he came home and the argument continued. He grabbed some clothes, told her he was leaving, and left in his 1993 Ford Explorer. About two hours later, he was driving S/B on a deserted country road south of Fresno when he crossed over the opposing lane, off the road toward some vineyards, and then tried to correct by turning back onto the road.

It was later determined that he had a 0.17 blood alcohol level, which is more than twice the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle. When he tried to come back on the road, the Explorer rolled over and came to rest upside-down in the face of oncoming traffic. The front of the vehicle faced the oncoming traffic with no front license or other reflective material. The driver then crawled out of the Explorer and stood on the side of the road.

The photos taken by the CHP showed that the only thing visible to oncoming traffic would have been the undercarriage of the Explorer...dirty, oily, greasy...very similar to the color of the road. There was no street lighting in the area.

A few minutes later, a gasoline tanker (two tanks, the second being a trailer) was heading N/B in the same lane. The tanker was empty and was returning to the distribution point to pick up another load for delivery that night. The driver of the tanker stated that he thought he was going about 55 mph, which was the speed limit on this road. The "Black Box" later showed he was actually going 59.5 mph with a possible error of up to 4 mph either way.

He said he saw another vehicle coming S/B, so he dimmed his lights. The driver then said he noticed something in the first he thought it was possible tar-like patchwork. When he realized it was an overturned vehicle (and not knowing what was inside), he locked up his breaks in an attempt to stop. Because there was traffic coming S/B, he swerved to the right and off the road narrowly missing the Explorer with his cab. His trailer collided with the Explorer driving it a considerable distance.

After getting out of his cab, he came to the realization that, in pulling off the road on to the soft shoulder, he actually struck the other driver standing about 10' off the road. The man died immediately.

The family sued the petroleum transport company for an amount in excess of $3 million alleging that the driver was negligent and reckless. The company refused to settle by taking the stand that, while the tanker driver may have been exceeding the speed limit by 4.5 mph, the real cause of the accident was the driver of the Explorer having been operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol (2 x the limit). The company also alleged that a sober individual would have run to safety instead of watching a gasoline tanker skidding toward him.

The trial lasted over three weeks. Both sides brought in several "experts" to testify in different areas...accident reconstruction, lighting, our perception of and reaction to what we see, data analysis of the "black box," economic losses, etc. I found it to be extremely interesting to participate in and never got bored. The other jurors were a pleasure to be around and I was honored that they wanted me to be the foreman.

In the end, the jury was almost unanimous (all but one) in feeling that the cause of the accident was the DUI driver and that, although the tanker was exceeding the speed limit slightly, his speeding was not to blame. Experts on both sides conceded that, even going 50 mph, the tanker driver would not have been able to stop.

It was a sad case. The jurors were all very sympathetic to the family. The attorneys for the family put a five-year-old, a twelve-year-old, and a twenty-year-old on the stand to testify how much they missed their father. The wife and mother-in-law also testified. Some jurors were in tears. But, at the same time, there was sympathy for the driver of the tanker. He had a very difficult time, too, and will likely say "what if?" for the rest of his life.

If you ever get the chance to be on a jury, don't try to avoid it. It was a great experience."

I think it was sad they had his 3 kids testify, especially the 5 and 12 year old. No amount of money would ever bring their father back. Of course they miss their dad, but to me, all that emotion had nothing to do with the money they were seeking. Dennis disagrees. While he did not find the petroleum company guilty, and he did feel the man who died was at fault being he was intoxicated, he feels the family was trying to seek the money (provider) they lost by way of their dad's death.

There is just something that does not set right with me about suing for an accident, in spite of the dire consequences. Perhaps I would feel differently if it happened to me?

On a lighter note, it is nice to have Dennis back. For the past 3 weeks he had been on this trial, he would come home so lost in his thoughts. It was frustrating for him, and for me, that he could not share what he was thinking, like he usually does. Welcome back Den!


Logan and Amy Heasley said...

I am so glad to finally hear the case. How interesting! I agree with Dad. I too have been on a juror and was a great experience. I would love to do it again. I know that you made a great foreman! I am glad you can finally talk about it.

Rebecca said...

This is very interesting. First I have to say, I had to laugh (in a good way) about how Dennis explained the trial. I could just hear the "Police" in his description! He did an excellent job of describing though. I would have to agree with the outcome. However, I do feel badly for the family of the man who died. First, it isn't the wife or children's fault their husband/father was so dumb as to drink and drive. (I have little sympathy for drunk drivers), so perhaps they were desperate to somehow compensate for his loss (money). Yet I do not like the idea of the younger children testifying. Interesting trial. I am glad of the outcome. I feel badly for the driver of the tanker as well though!

Jill said...

I like your take on this Rebecca...that it was not the family's fault their husband/father was a drunk driver that day, and perhaps they were feeling desperate about the lack of his income. I hadn't thought of it quite that way.

The whole idea though of suing because of an accident (the petroleum driver) just doesn't feel right though. And I really disliked the way they used the children to bring out the emotion of the jurors. I feel they should have just stuck with the facts of the accident.

Rebecca said...

I agree with you on the suing part as well. I have been thinking about this case since I read it. I wonder.....say this guy was NOT killed, and the tanker driver did not see the car and hit it, would the tanker driver/and or his family be suing the drunk driver? Things could have been turned around very quickly!

The Gage Cage said...

That is a crazy case. I agree with your feelings about the case Jill. Glad Dennis got to serve on a jury and is back to his god life.

Mary said...

Very interesting! I served on a jury for an aggravated assault case long ago and I would do it again in a heartbeat. It's an awesome responsibility, but so fascinating.

I agree with you, Jill. First of all, you don't traumatize your children so a sympathetic jury will give you money. Secondly, the deceased husband must have had quite a job if it takes $3 million to replace his income for the next20 years! And finally, this is a great lesson on the importance of life insurance coverage to protect your family when you're gone.

Great story well told, Dennis!

Dad and Susan said...

I loved hearing the details about this! Dennis, you're my hero! You were more interesting than Sgt. Friday on Dragnet. I'm a Law and Order Junkie and have read SO MANY legal novels, so this was like a shot of adreneline to me. I think you came up with the right verdict. I so enjoyed all the comments also. You were awesome to "keep your promise not to talk about the case." When I was on a jury my friends and family made fun of me because I wouldn't talk about the case. Good job. Dad and Susan

Dennis said...

Thanks to all. Rebecca...I wondered what would have happened if "the tables were turned" and the DUI driver was the one being sued? I think the driver of the tanker would have had a much stronger case. But, as it turned out, he probably would not have received anything because none of the three vehicles owned by the DUI driver were insured.


Lisa said...

THanks Dennis for sharing this experience. What an eye opener & I agree with the jury's decision. Dennis is an awesome writer-very vivid description & I could see things as they transpired.

T said...

What a case! I am not glad to hear that he was chosen though. I have to report in another week and I better not have to stay unexpectedly.

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating, though tragic story!


Richard said...

The moral of the story...the drunk should have found a good PI atty in Visalia.