I. The Jury Selecting Process
I showed up to Jury Duty at the Daley Center in downtown Chicago on Tuesday morning, following a train ride on Metra, which let off just a few blocks away. They sent everyone up to 17th floor, where we were given panel (group) numbers and given instructions. They then began to call the panel numbers, one at a time, and sent the panels up to different court rooms.
I was in one of the last panels called. We went up to the 25th floor, where three separate panels were grouped together in one courtroom. The judge and the attorneys then went through the 12 people located in the jury box, asking questions ranging from "Where do you get your news?" to "Are you prejudiced?" to "Have you ever been in a car accident? Have you ever been injured in a car accident? Where?" As they questioned and dismissed prospective jurors, it soon became obvious as to what they were looking for: people who had never been in a serious car accident, who had no lower back injuries resulting from a car accident, who had no knowledge of anything medical, and who had no knowledge of anything concerning billing. In spite of my multitudes of car accidents (8 at last count - and I still don't have my driver's license!), none of this applied to me.
There were a few people who gave some really dumb excuses. One woman said, "I am pregnant and I have to pee every five minutes." The judge said, "How far away do you live from the Daley Center?" "15 minutes." "How did you get here?" "On the El." "Did you pee on the way here?" "No." "So you don't have to pee every five minutes!" "I have to pee every 5-10 minutes because I have an infection!"
Another woman said, "I need to go home to eat a sandwich so I can take my blood pressure medicine or I'll get really sick." "Would a candy bar work?" "No, I need to eat a sandwich." "If I let you all out for a recess, could you go downstairs and get a sandwich?" "I don't have no money!" "What if I lent you some money to buy a sandwich?" "I need to go home to take my medicine!" "If anyone in the courtroom needs to go home to eat a sandwich so they can take their blood pressure medicine, then they are dismissed." The woman doesn't move. "Did you hear what I said?" "I need to go home." "I just dismissed you."
A man said, "I am prejudiced." "Who are you prejudiced against?" "Everyone." "Why?" "I just am." "Why?" "It's the way I am." "Do you know anything about either the plaintiff or the defendant?" "No." "Why are you prejudiced?" "It's just the way I am." "Why are you prejudiced?" "I believe everyone puts a spin on things." "Aren't you putting a spin on things by saying that everyone puts a spin on things?" "See! You did it just then!" The judge then told the man to quit wasting his time, sent him to the back of the courtroom, and told him to stay there until he was ready to talk to him again. (The man ended up staying all day.)
A woman said, "I cannot do this because it is against my religious beliefs." "What is against your religious beliefs?" "I believe that I cannot judge. It is against my religion." "What is your religion?" "It's my religious beliefs." "What are your religious beliefs?" "The King James version of the Holy Bible." "I'm a judge. Judging is what I do for a living. What does that mean?" "You can judge if you'd like, it's not part of your religious beliefs, but it is against mine." He then sent the woman to sit in the back of the courtroom, and she also stayed all day.
They went through about 40 people before they got to me. I was the 11th of the 12 people chosen for the jury - and the last three of us were chosen all in a row, even though we all had reasons not to be chosen that had eliminated other people. Does that sentence even make sense? I'm not sure anymore.
Here's the makeup of the jury: 11 men, 1 woman. (The woman was the last person chosen.) 3 black, 1 mixed race, 1 Middle Eastern, 7 white. 5 people under the age of 25; 6 under the age of 30; 4 in their 40's; 1 in their 60's; 1 in their 80's. (Ages ranged from 19 to 81.) 4 people had college degrees, and 2 of them had graduate-level degrees. 2 of us were from Des Plaines (and graduated from Maine West recently enough to have some mutual friends), 1 works at Maine East. (Interestingly, the plaintiff in this case also resides in Des Plaines. But that's not pertinent to this discussion.)
II. The Case
It was a civil trial in which a middle-aged Korean woman (the plaintiff) claimed that she had been injured as a result of a car accident with a young white man (the defendant). The car accident, which occurred in 2002, was not severe; both sides claimed that the man was going under 5 MPH when he ran into the woman, who (according to her story) was stopped at a red light or (according to his story) stopped suddenly at a green light.
According to the police report, the woman's car was scratched while the man's car had "minimal damages" - which may or may not have meant his car was damaged in some way. We don't know. However, the police report had several issues (not being filled out correctly), so we weren't able to discern the truth from it. However, what we were able to learn from it was that there were no injuries that resulted from the accident. The woman never claimed she was injured at the scene of the crime, or when they drove to the police station later. However, she swore under oath, and at her deposition, that she felt immediate pain in her lower back.
The pain in her back ended up getting worse, and after eight days the woman went to a chiropractor, who diagnosed her with lower lumbar strain sprain (or a sprained back). The woman then went to a doctor at a clinic, a Dr. Rodriguez (name changed), who diagnosed her with the same thing, had her do physical therapy. In mid-September she claimed her pain was a "3 out of 10" and so her doctor declared her treated.
However, by the end of October her back had worsened significantly, and she returned to Dr. Rodriguez. He had her do several extremely expensive tests, which revealed that her back sprain was in fact an anular tear (fibrous soft-tissue in the vertebrae) and a bulging disc (liquidy stuff leaking out of one of the discs in her back). He referred her to a Dr. Hughes (name changed), who performed several procedures on her back. Basically, he dug into her back, broke up scar tissue, then injected some medicine into it.
The issue with her treatment is that all of the doctors were doing really weird things with their billing. She was double billed, overbilled, and billed for treatments she had never received (for example, months of physical therapy). She had been misdiagnosed a couple times and her condition had been decided without her ever having received the definitive test by which her condition is decided. She received an epidural, which is almost always a last case scenario, before she'd ever been diagnosed. There were all kinds of weird things going on here.
During the trial both sides brought in "experts" and witnesses, crossexamined everyone, and read off every single little detail ad nauseum.
III. The Deliberations
We the jury needed to decide the following:
a) Who caused the accident? Or, if both were at fault (negligent), who was MOST at fault for the accident?
b) Was the plaintiff injured as a result of the accident?
c) Was the treatment the plaintiff received reasonable?
d) Was the billing the plaintiff received reasonable?
e) If (a) and (b) are true, but (c) and (d) are not, then should the defendant still pay for her treatment?
In the end it really revolved around who caused the accident. But the versions of events provided by both sides were literally night and day accounts. The woman said she was in the left lane, first car, stopped at a red light, no cars around. The man said they were in the right lane, 5-6 cars back, and they had just started to go when she stopped suddenly.
The jury debated for three hours regarding the evidence and what we heard. We went to the heart of the matter and focused on who was most negligent in this case. For a while we were more or less evenly split between the plaintiff and the defendant. Eventually the hold-outs switched and we ended up voting in favor of the defendant.
Why did we vote in favor of the defendant? Well, we based our decision on credibility. The woman's answers at her deposition in 2007 were at least in part different from her answers at the trial this week. Her answers at both the deposition and at the trial regarding her pain (she felt a sharp pain in her back immediately at the accident scene) differed from her comments at the scene. There was nothing written in the police report or stated by either person that she was injured at the scene of the accident.
I was one of the hold-outs. I personally believed that her injury WAS a result of the accident - all of the experts said it was possible. Some of the people on the jury (which included an LPN and a man who had finished medical school but is not a practicing doctor at this time) said it wasn't. But, who would you believe - multiple doctors or a couple people off the street? They also said that if your car is hit from behind, you will not be pushed forward, but back. Well, I've been in a car that was hit from behind too - and I was pushed forward. It's simple physics! You move forward and then back. Maybe your lower back isn't moving, but the experts all said that the plaintiff's injuries COULD have been caused by this car accident.
The reason I switched to voting for the defendant was because I decided that she was more than 50% negligent in this case. Maybe 51%, to be honest. The defendant was also negligent (driving too close) and I didn't find him to be a particularly credible witness either (too practiced, caught in a lie regarding damages to his car), but the woman did not comment on her physical state at the scene of the accident and therefore we simply do not know for certain if her pain was a result of the accident. Maybe - probably - it was. But, we don't know for certain. And we never will.
I feel bad for the woman, and I believe she was screwed over by basically everyone with whom she dealt, but I think she was barking up the wrong tree when she sued this man. She should have gone for the clinic and the individual doctors. And, who knows? She probably is. And if not, she should. There are some huge irregularities in the billing, which was proven by the experts brought in by the defendant. But none of the irregularities were her fault. That's what really bums me out. She's stuck with a ton of bills to pay and it wasn't her fault. Oh well. That's life.
IV. Final Conclusions
Was Jury Duty worth it? Yes, it was.
Well, I think we should be making more than $17.20/day. But we got free breakfast and lunch, courtesy of the utterly AMAZING judge, so maybe it evened out. Well, probably not. Overall I thought it was incredibly fascinating - especially the procedures followed - even though it was rather monotonous and repetitious. I'm relieved the trial only lasted a week, because any longer would have been downright painful. Over half of the jury fell asleep during one part or another of the trial. (For the record, I did not.) I'm also glad I wasn't on a criminal trial jury, in which every person would need to be 100% convinced before making a decision. As this was a civil trial, we didn't need to be 100% convinced.
Go to jury duty and enjoy the experience. Yeah it may be at an inconvenient location or time, and yeah you may not be making a lot of money, but it really is fascinating. You don't do it every day. And it's part of the American experience: we're the only country in the world in which we are judged by our peers. Why not be one of them?
Oh, and times: we started at about 9am every day this week. I took the 7:06 downtown. We finished up at 5-5:30 the last couple days (getting home at about 6:30-7pm) and today we finished at about 3:40ish. I managed to catch the 4:05, which is the same train my mother takes, so we were able to sit together.
Now... I'm going to sleep.