On April 19th I parked at the corner where the bicycle had careened into my car. I tried to re-visit that experience because my case was about to go to trial and I was imagining the questions I might be asked in a jury trial that was scheduled to take three days. The plaintiff was going to try to convince the jury that I was driving negligently on that day, almost four years ago.
While I was parked several feet from the actual intersection, my cell phone rang. Since I was parked, I picked it up and my lawyer told me the case was settled. The trial was off. My insurance company paid the plaintiff, and he withdrew. I was ecstatic! I had been nervous about going to court. But then I began to wonder whether the award to the plaintiff for medical bills and pain and suffering was legitimate.
The plaintiff is a nice enough young man. In meeting him at the accident scene and later at the deposition he was polite and presented as a pleasant youngster. But he was, in my estimation and in the eyes of the police officer at the scene, operating his bicycle in a construction area in a reckless manner. That he had physical and monetary costs from his injuries, there is not doubt. He was not as careful as he should have been (he was not wearing a helmet) and he was hurt. Why is he not required to take responsibility for that carelessness and pay the price? He has no insurance; not much income. I am insured. The insurance company will pay my costs AND whatever is determined to be the plaintiff’s award after trial, or as it turned out, to settle the case before trial. I started feeling sorry for the plaintiff. He was looking for a “deep pocket” and the insurance company is that “pocket.” And yet, in my conversation with myself, I ask, “who is the insurance company? It is all of us who pay larger and larger premiums.” I didn’t want this decision to be based on dollars. I want people to take responsibility for their acts, not look for someone to pick up the bill.
Now, with this settlement, I have lost my day in court. What might it have been like? The jury would not likely have been peers of my age, since older citizens need not serve. The jury would not likely have been peers of my past profession, since lawyers are seldom chosen for the jury.
The questioning might have gone like this:
Plaintiff’s attorney: How many years have you been driving?
My answer: Sixty!
Plaintiff’s attorney: Have you ever had an accident before?
My answer: Never!
Plaintiff’s attorney: Do you remember having to take a written test when you learned to drive?
My answer: Yes!
Plaintiff’s attorney: Do you still remember it?
My answer: Yes!
Plaintiff’s attorney: What is the rule when you are entering an intersection and planning to take a turn?
My answer: Proceed with caution.
Plaintiff’s attorney: Does that mean looking in your mirror:
My answer: I believe that is part of being cautious.
Best not to be-labor the trial that is not to be. I will never know if what I see as absolute justice is the same for twelve others.
An ad I hear daily rings in my head. “Responsibility, what’s your policy?”
Barbara Younger, attorney, mediator, matriarch, is a facilitator in family conflict resolution.