Drunk Driving Accidents - The Juror's Burden

One hears about a person who served on a jury saying, “That case wrung me out.”

Why did the person say this? Was it the hours of deliberation, coffee and sandwiches, the give-and-take of opinions, criticisms, and outbursts of frustration? Yes, all of this is one possible reason. Or was it the hours of concentration in court, note-taking, listening, getting a feel for a position, and then minutes later being whooshed in the opposite direction by another juror trying to discredit that position?

Yes, this is tiring, it is exhausting, even, but is it a wringing-out? It is not. The wrung-out juror has given up something more than her sense of vitality and freshness.

Everyone knows people like to hide their feelings. It is said to be especially true of men, but true of all people nonetheless. Life is a struggle, after all, but we are constrained to accentuate the positive, or being social would really just double the pain. Jurors naturally come to a courtroom with a bag full of feelings, feelings we often keep private within our families. Jurors do not expect to bother with their private feelings in the course of a trial. Jurors, however, often tap into their own feelings to understand what someone in a personal injury trial has experienced.

An attorney trying to argue for fair compensation for the loss of a mother is in a tough position because everyone knows it is off-putting – or maybe callous, base, and crude – to put a money figure on a human life. It feels like a crude thing to do. So a money compensation figure must not claim to put a value on a life. But the law says there must be a money compensation for the loss inflicted by a defendant who has caused a family to suffer the death of a mother.

The motherless child. The bereaved husband. These cases of a person stricken by a terrifying loss relate deeply to feelings in everyone, the feelings usually hidden from others. To understand this, as an attorney, as a juror, or as a human, we must stand in the other person’s shoes.

Why do this? Because it is the only way for us to understand the enormity of the harm that someone has undergone. Some of the most enormous harms, even death, can be caused not by a person’s intent, but by their indifference. When someone gets behind the wheel of their car drunk, chose to drink and drive, they are indifferent because they cared more for saving taxi fare than for the well-being of others around them. The possibility that they could cause the death of a mother did not bother that person. Today, there can be a share of the blame of drunk driving in Oregon if the driver was at, for example, a bar. Not only is the driver liable for their indifference, but the law prevents businesses from serving visibly intoxicated patrons.

This indifference truly is a terrifying thing. Why? Because a victim of harm due to indifference is forced to sense and come to grips with the indifference of the world, even the indifference of a god. The human, alone on the earth, the earth for which his affairs do not matter.

Putting oneself in such shoes calls up all the feelings that one usually chooses to keep private and only reveal with family. It exercises those feelings, and such an experience is taxing. It destroys one’s emotional equilibrium. This is what is meant by “being upset.” It is as if, once stirred up, the emotional fluids that were level and contained have sloshed over and drained out. Poise is destroyed. That is why a juror who has done good work often will say, “I don’t want to talk about it now.”

Becoming invested in an emotional trial, standing in the shoes of someone that has experienced life-changing loss, causes a juror to be wrung-out. Taking on this burden is part of the huge responsibility that jurors bear.

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