While not all jury deliberations are watched by hordes of people in underground bunkers with wiretapping equipment and video monitors like those in movie The Runaway Jury, they are serious nonetheless – and meant to be secret. But in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites, jurors posts or internet research about a case can have dire consequences.
Our civil justice system depends on fair and impartial jurors deciding cases based on the facts presented. Trial lawyers should keep abreast of these constantly evolving technologies to best represent their clients.
Instead, remember (just as I remind my kids each year when I read the Declaration of Independence to them) that one of the reasons we actually broke off and started are own, brand new country was the fact that King George III had taken away our right to have a jury trial. That’s right. Having your case heard before a jury – where both parties stand equal before the law- was so important to guys like Jefferson and Madison, that if they couldn’t have it, they were going to start their own country. Jefferson even listed in the Declaration of Independence that the King was “depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury.” That, among other reasons, required our separation from Britain.
What does this mean to you:
Be well, and have a safe and happy Fourth of July.
Every parent knows that, from time to time, a little punishment can be warranted. We generally punish for the really bad stuff, and even then, the punishment has to “fit the crime.” In really bad cases, juries can punish bad behavior too by awarding punitive damages. Punitive damages are hard to actually prove, and as a result, are rarely awarded.
The type of behavior punitive damages discourage is the worst of the worst – intentional, dangerous behavior. The classic example is the infamous Ford Pinto, often recognized as one of the worst cars of all time. Ford engineers knew its gas tank design was likely catch fire in a crash and knew how to fix it for only $11 per car, but decided it would be cheaper to let people burn and pay the lawsuits.
Natalie Barnhard was working a fitness center as a trainer when a defective weight machine tipped and fell on her, crushing her vertebrae, and rendering her quadriplegic. Because the manufacturer denied all responsibility for its machine, Natalie pursued her case to trial, where the jury returned a verdict in her favor. The manufacturer appealed the verdict. Even though a jury of her peers had heard the case and already decided the amount she was to receive, the court of appeals in New York slashed the amount of money Natalie could receive. The ability for courts to, in effect, overrule a jury and reduce the award is called remittitur, and varies from state to state.
So why even bother pursuing a case if they just drag it out? In our legal system, individual people and their lawyers have the ability to hold the wealthiest companies responsible for their wrongdoing.