I spent the past week trying a car accident case in Gwinnett County and am writing to give you an overview of some of the nuances in presenting an injury case to a conservative jury.
The word on the street is that Gwinnett has been growing more and more diverse over the last few years. As Gwinnett’s Hispanic, Asian and African American population has grown, so have their numbers in jury pools. I tried a case in Gwinnett in April last year and had a 6 person white and 6 person other jury. That is not always going to be the case though as our trial this past week demonstrated.
Our client was a 22 year old black female from Southeast Atlanta. She is intelligent and well spoken but works in a case based hair styling business with no tax records. She was a passenger in a vehicle driven by her best friend when a HVAC van turned left across her path a 8:15 AM on the drive to work. The driver of the HVAC van was ticketed but plead Nolo so the outcome of the ticket did not come into evidence. The Defense hired an expert reconstructionist to tell the jury that the crash was caused by the driver of the Plaintiff’s vehicle, claiming that she was not paying attention and that the crash could have been avoided. We did not hire a recon as liability seemed clear to us and their recon was a awful in our opinion.
The client sustained a humerus fracture with surgery and plates and screws. She had a keloided scar on the upper arm. She had a 4 cm scar between her eyebrows where her head was split open with a slight brain bleed and no mental sequelae. She could not present paper documentation of lost income. Her surgeon testified that she had a 9% whole body permanent partial impairment with radial nerve damage and weakness in the dominant arm.
First a word to the uninitated on how jury selection in a civil trial goes. Judge Mock brought in 30 candidates. Amongst those faces were five african americans, an Asian, a Russian and several Hispanics. The Court dismissed for cause all of those persons who did not feel comfortable with English, understandably.
The Defense and Plaintiff each get six strikes. The defense used five of theirs to get every black face off of the jury pool. In the end, our client faced a jury of 5 white females and 7 white males. In many situations, I do not feel that race is a controlling issue and it would be naive to say that it was here. What was more significant was the age and life experience of the plaintiff. She had a Twitter account that the defense downloaded and the Court allowed in over objection. There was not a single impeachment item in 3000 Tweets, but the client came across as a thriving young lady after the injury. She speaks, acts and dances like any other 22 year old. I suspect that her language and vocubulary also went a long way towards alienating the jury to some small degree.
The driver of our car was not very convicing either. Quiet and sullen, she was unable to come across as the type of driver who would be capable of reacting well. The only impeachment on her consisted of cell phone records from the night before the night before the crash showing she was up and talking all night. She was unemployed and just did not present well.
So, there you are facing a jury was probably a 7-5 Romney voting split. Very fair people from what I can tell, but definitely not a peer of the Plaintiff amongst them.
We chose our trial themes carefully. With all of the law and most of the facts on our side, we presented the law in painstaking detail pointing out that for the driver faced with the sudden emergency the standard of care is different. I spoke for over 40 minutes on the rules of the road and the rules of impeachment. Based on conversations with the jury afterwards, I feel that we connected well, but that the driver of our vehicle was just not convincing and despite the van drivers’ spotty history, she was not a winner.
In the end the jury voted for 60% of liability to go against the van driver and 40% on our client’s driver. The news on the verdict was more favorable; the jury awarded $236,000 in damages.
To make a long story short, I do not believe race played any role in the case but I do suspect that the cavalier nature of the 22 year old driver and the plaintiff went a long way towards affecting liability and holding down the damages award.