Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Trial Update

I have been absent from posting because I was preparing for a trial for the past several weeks. It was a medical malpractice case in Mercer County. Mercer is notorious for its defense verdicts. For me the case always came down to belief in my clients. My clients, a husband and wife, were just plain good people. Not only were they good people they were truthful people.

The husband was a life-long trucker. He was involved in a significant accident one evening that left him with a large laceration on his left ankle. Two and a half days after the accident he went for a work mandated physical, drug screen and to have his wound looked at. The medical notes were unclear whether the doctor ever unwrapped my client's bandage and inspected the wound. My client and his wife, who was present for the entire exam, stated emphatically that the doctor never looked. Because of this, the doctor missed signs of an infection and my client did not get the emergency treatment he required. As a result, he developed necrotizing fasciitis, sometimes called the flesh eating disease. Because of this he has had to undergo countless procedures to cut away the flesh and muscle of his leg. He had been left with a disfigured leg that keeps him from driving the tractor trailers he loves so dearly. The doctor passed away shortly after the exam and was thus unable to provide testimony. And therein lied the case.

At the start of the trial, the Judge told me we had no chance of winning. He said the jury would never believe my people. "My jury is going to make it very uncomfortable for your people," suggesting that the jury would think them liars. The judge was convinced of this and encouraged me to accept an amount of money that would leave my clients with nothing. My clients were too good of people and had endured far too much for me to even consider encouraging them to take nothing. And so, as the husband so aptly put it, the trial of David and Goliath began.

My medical expert did not do as well on the stand as I had hoped. But my clients were tremendous. We had worked hard on keeping their emotions in check and conveying their story as clearly as possible. The hard work paid off. They were comfortable in conversing with me and were unwavering under cross examination. As stressful an experience as testifying can be, they both connected with the jury. I always knew they would.

With what we had to work with I felt the trial unfolded as well as I could have hoped. After all the time I had spent with my clients preparing for trial and then sitting with them day in and out of a week long trial I felt just a taste of their harrowing experience. To my surprise this connection came out in my closing argument. As I began to discuss what this husband and wife endured I felt a knot in my throat. I was getting choked up. I had to take a moment to collect myself. It was at that moment that the purpose of my job really came into perspective. These people needed help. They needed someone to speak up for them and tell their story. That is what I was doing. And I knew in the deepest part of my heart that I had given everything I had to help.

Following closing arguments and the judge's instructions, the jury was sent off to deliberate. They were out for about two and a half hours. My cell phone rang. The jury had a verdict. In that amount of time I was pretty sure we were facing a defense verdict. Was it possible the jury didn't believe in my clients? I was sick.

We returned to the courtroom and the jury was seated. The jury foreman read the first question "Do you find the doctor negligent"....... "Yes." My eyes, staring at the floor awaiting impending doom, shot up. They had found the doctor negligent. Was it possible that we won? Could David have beat Goliath? "Do you find that the negligence caused the harm claimed?"...."No." Case over. I was allowed to feel hope for about 10 seconds. It was so fleeting I can't even describe what I was thinking. We had won but lost.

As devastating as it was to be that close to an impossible victory and not win I still felt good. My clients had always said "All we have is the truth and all we can do is tell it and then it's out of our hands." And they were vindicated. Despite what the judge predicted, the jury believed them. The defense, among many other issues, suggested that my clients were lying. But the jury believed in my clients. That is a rewarding feeling. I am honored that my clients trusted me with their case. It was an amazing experience. I only wish I could have gotten them the full measure of justice they deserved. Share this post :
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