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Jury duty, Part V - The verdict

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I have always wondered how one would put a price on pain and suffering. Here I was tasked to come up with one. The case was even more nebulous since the plaintiff's credibility was in question. Almost immediately we polled ourselves to see where each juror stood on the matter. The range was between $50,000 and $500,000. Mine was the lowest number. In my mind the plaintiff was in much less pain that she was claiming and $50,000 was a generous award. The man with the highest number was wondering if his figure was too low. This was going to be trouble. After an hour of discussion, I found an ally who agreed with my number (we had chosen him as the foreman), but the rest weren't so pleased, least of them the high-number man.

How had I arrived at my number? A simple, common sense approach. It was the amount that the plaintiff's pain was worth to me throwing in the benefit of doubt for good measure. Others were going about it by calculating how much the plaintiff's loss of life pleasure and loss of work could financially harm her. Finally we decided to calculate what the average award would be. In one instance we averaged all of the figures, in another, we threw out the lowest and highest numbers and averaged the rest. The results were fairly close for both calculations - too high for me, too low for the high-number man. Some tried other approaches to justify the average number, like loss of opportunity during lifetime, child bearing difficulties, or even lifetime medical bills to treat anxiety.

By lunch, it was obvious we weren't making any progress on a final figure. Hopeless, we sent a note to the judge explaining the deadlock and asking for guidance. I know we wanted to finish the job that day but without a unanimous vote, we weren't going anywhere. The judge did his best instructing us to do the best we can and then sent us to lunch hoping that nourishment would smooth things over.

Eating lunch might have helped a bit. We found ourselves in a hard bargaining mode in the afternoon. It was like trying to broker a deal come hell or high water. I would reluctantly raise my award and others would reciprocate by lowering their figures. Finally we were within a striking distance of a $30,000 difference and that's when I lost my ally as he joined the other four jurors on one side, and left me on the other side. I found myself as the only juror pacing back and forth in the room trying my best not to give in. The stare-down went on for a while with both sides stubbornly defending their positions, vowing not to compromise. But finally a small peace gesture from their side clinched the deal. I raised my number by an additional $20,000.

The deliberation was over and suddenly the plaintiff was going to be $170,000 richer.


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