A Social License Part II

Occupy Portland Encampment (first week of November 2011) image: jparadisi 2011

“Oh, that’s too funny! Well, thanks for letting us know. See you in a few days.”

Those were the words of the charge nurse at the infusion clinic, when I called to let her know that, because of jury duty, I would miss the next day’s shift too.

The jury was selected. The judge outlined the case and instructed us in our responsibilities as jurors. Then we were dismissed for lunch.

The trial began when we returned. It was expected to last through the late afternoon of the next day. If the jury reached a decision quickly after the closing arguments, our job would be done. If not, a third day would be required to complete deliberation.

When court resumed, thirteen jurors took their seats. The thirteenth juror, an alternate, would hear the entire case, and then be identified before deliberation. The alternate would only participate in deliberation if another juror became ill or had an emergency preventing him or her from serving. Looking at each face in our group, I wondered which one of us would be kicked off the island (Survivor reference). Was it me?

The only other potential juror, beside me, who had been called out, had not been selected for duty. It was her opinion that cases seeking medical damages resulting from a car accident, such as this one, are always based on greed. She was rejected as a juror because she could not set aside her opinion to hear the case.

The plaintiff suffered neck and shoulder pain since her car was rear ended three years ago at a stop light by the defendant. She was suing for pain and suffering. The defendant was driving his sister’s car at the time of the accident, because an intoxicated driver totaled the defendant’s car two days before he rear-ended the plaintiff.  The defendant had been on his way to school when the accident occurred. He was not intoxicated nor using his cell phone. His foot slipped off the brake. It was a low impact collision. The sister was not in the car at the time of the accident, but was included in the suit because the car belonged to her.

That first day, I wanted to side with the plaintiff. I have seen serious injuries occur from seemingly insignificant impacts. I imagined the plaintiff sitting at her desk job in pain everyday. I listened carefully to her lawyer’s lengthy circumlocutions about her suffering, and the testimonies of her primary health care provider and chiropractor on her behalf.

I left the courthouse at the end of that first day believing the case was motivated by fear: fear of disability and loss of income, fear of a healthcare system that will likely fail the plaintiff when she needs treatment in the future. I felt disheartened.

At the end of that first day I left the courthouse. The defendants‘ lawyer would present their case the following day. Across the street, the people of Occupy Portland gathered among their tents and makeshift shelters.

I felt the onset of a melancholy I cannot identify in the chill of the autumn air.

Next: A Social License Part III