Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Trial, Part IV

We had heard a great deal about the plaintiff, and had learned more about his damaged back than any of us had ever known about our own. I’m sure that my fellow-jurors were as curious as myself when he was finally called to the stand, on what was now the fifth day of the trial. And I’m sure that every one of my fellow-jurors shared the sympathy I felt for his obvious pain. His movements were constricted, the suffering was evident in his face and his posture.

(Let me make an aside at this point to wonder what part the Buddhist teaching of compassion played in my experience of this trial. Clearly, given the pain the man was suffering, I could not help but feel for his predicament, and I was much aware, as I sat listening to testimony throughout the trial, of everything I have learned over the years through my embrace of this most fundamental of Buddhist beliefs. And yet I was aware, too, of the civic duty, in this court of law, to set personal feelings aside, insofar as I was able, and to balance evidence against evidence, fact against fact, and to not allow pure human empathy to drive my responses. I was, then, in something of a quandary…)

And there was much to like about the man who sat in the jury box. Before the surgeries, we learned, he had been a highly motivated worker, who loved his chosen profession. It was, as he said, his life. Though divorced, he was also a devoted father, who took the time needed to commute a good distance at the weekends to spend time with the daughter he appeared to dote on, as fathers tend to do. With his new partner in life, he had good friends, an active social life, a home they had purchased together, and plans to be married. All of which came to an end. The pain, he testified, with genuine tears in his eyes, had changed him into a man who became, in his own words, “a very unpleasant person.”

He described in painful detail the long journey he had taken through the nightmare of diagnostic tests, hospitals and surgeries. He described his deteriorating physical condition, his worsening depression, his inability to work, the humiliation of losing his appetite for life—including sexual activity—and the grief of being deprived of those qualities that had made him a good partner in a relationship, and a good father to his daughter. In all this, he expressed the desire to get back to his work and his life, his plans to re-qualify for a more sedentary position in real estate; the desire to recover. He was anxious to show us that he had not lost hope.

I am sure that there was no lack of human sympathy for this man amongst the jury members as his testimony concluded. How could it be otherwise?

Next to appear was the evidently competent and experienced nurse whose expertise was “life care planning.” She had worked, primarily with the Antelope Valley neurosurgeon whose testimony we had heard, to develop the plan that the doctor had detailed for us while he was on the stand, and she was brought on to explain how the plan was drawn up and why she considered every part of it to be justified and necessary.

I don’t know what was going through the heads of other jurors, but it was at this point that I found myself wondering why it was that the whole battery of witnesses for the plaintiff were associated with the Antelope Valley hospital (the radiologist, the neurosurgeon, the orthopedic surgeon, the life care planner…) when most of the examinations and all of the surgeries had taken place elsewhere. I might not have worried about this so much, had it not been made clear that the plaintiff had seen the neurosurgeon only twice, both times after hiring his attorney, and had no plans to see him again. Whence, then, the heavy involvement of the Antelope Valley people, unless for the purposes of the lawsuit itself, to construct the necessary story?

Okay, I kept telling myself: bear in mind the admonishment. Keep an open mind until you’ve heard the last word of evidence… My speculation, I reminded myself, was just that: speculation.

At which point, the plaintiff’s attorney called to the stand two last witnesses. The first was an economist, brought out to explain to us just how the financial projections for future costs and loss of earnings had been calculated. She argued, cogently enough, that the projected costs of the life care plan were reasonable and fair, given the needs agreed upon by the neurosurgeon and the life care planner. And finally, the former girlfriend, a very nice young woman who described the life she had enjoyed with the plaintiff and their two young daughters, one his, one hers, in the days before the accident. She testified about that “slip-and-fall”, the month before the car crash, as being “not a big deal,” and sadly agreed with the plaintiff’s own assessment that he had become an unpleasant person to live with. Even her daughter had begun to find him “mean.” The two parted when he made the decision to leave the Antelope Valley area, and their two-story house whose stairs had become difficult for him to manage, and relocate closer to the Torrance-Redondo Beach area, where his daughter now lived with her mother, and the location of the hospital where future surgeries might be necessary.

And the plaintiff rested. And I, too, will rest. This entry will be posted as the fourth in the series. I’m thinking, at this point, that five may do the trick…

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