Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Jurist Prudence

I blogged earlier (Nov. 16) that my wife, Patty (the Moosette) was selected for Jury Duty at the Kitsap County Court. First, she attended several sessions, during which jurors were selected from the pool of potential jurors. She was selected. Then came the trial. (Now that it's over, all can be told!)
The case was one of medical malpractice. A man and his wife were suing their psychiatrist, for negligence, and demanding repayment of medical bills and damages. Seems that... wait... it goes like this:
The plaintiff, an engineer in his thirties, had a mental breakdown and made a suicide attempt. He walked into Puget Sound and tried to drown. (He was dissuaded by a passing duck, who told him to get out of the water. Remember, he was having a psychotic episode) He ended up in the hospital, and after release, was advised to stay under psychiatric care, and medication. So he engaged the shrink, who was responsible for his medication, and was supposed to go to a therapist, too, and join a support group. So, life went on, and his medications were adjusted, or one was discontinued and another started, and so on.
But sadly, after about six months he had another episode, which seemed to be a combination of extreme depression, paranoiaand psychosis. The onset was rapid, a matter of days, and neither he, nor his wife (who called the Dr. when she noticed) nor the doctor really appreciated how bad the poor guy was getting.
He took himself out to the beach and using a stethoscope to locate his heart, fell on a dagger, three times. He didn't die, but he did himself lots of injury, puncturing a lung, stabbing a piece of his heart, puncturing his spleen (they took it out) and nearly bled to death. Again, he survived, but it was a near thing. Lots of surgery.
So that, more or less, is the story my wife heard, over the course of three days of testimony. (Again, I want to say she only told me this after her jurist duties were ended, as she was instructed. But that didn't keep her from coming home each night and saying "Oh, have I got a story I can't tell you!")
What it came down to, is: was the doctor negligent in his care? Did he reduce, increase, or stop medications correctly? Did he not act quickly enough(by immediately having the patient come in to see him or go to a hospital) when the wife called him to report her husbands troubling new symptoms?
Of course, there was big-time expert testimony, from plaintiff and defendant's witnesses. Distinguished scholar-doctor-author-teacher kind of guys. And there was factors, factors. Here's a few: The doctor seemed to take very inadequate, sketchy notes. The patient did not follow his treatment plan completely, and engage a therapist and attend a support group, in addition to taking medication, as his treatment plan ordered. The doctor may have compromised, to save the couple money, by treating them on a two-fer basis (The wife is bi-polar). The patients paranoia, which might have been connected to his depression, might have made him less than forthcoming about his psychosis.
All this, and much, much more, Patty listened to carefully each day, taking notes, considering the judge's instructions, really trying to do her job as a juror, not just pre-judging on the basis of prejudices (Lousy rip-off shrinks, frivolous lawsuits, sympathy for a mangled guy and his distraught wife, what her know-it-all husband said on the basis of the truncated summary of each day's testimony, stuff like that).
Finally, after 9 days, both plaintiff and defendant had presented their cases, examined and cross examined witnesses, and the jury had been instructed in the law by the judge.
Now it was time, time for deliberation, time for the jury to decide if there was negligence, and if so, how much moolah should be awarded. A jury foreman would be picked, and the jury would retire, not even leaving for lunch, to bring this magnificent drama of American jurisprudence to its conclusion. (Which would probably go right to an appeal)
She came home exhausted every night, with a headache from being trapped indoors, and concentrating intently. This was serious stuff, and she took it seriously.
And through it all, all 14 jurors... wha?, all 14? Yup, all 14. 12 jurors and 2 alternates. Since nothing had happened to knock any juror out of the box, they were still two jurors long. Time to draw straws!
And Patty drew short straw, right off, and was excused from the deliberation. Bye-bye Jurist Prudence!
She got $13.00 from the pool, (Gotta liven up the elimination of alternates somehow)and should receive a check for $10.00 a day from the county. She returned to work next day and was grumbled at for discharging her civic obligations. And if she doesn't go down to the courthouse and try to check the records, (it should be a public record, right?) she'll never know how the whole imbroglio came out.
I ask you, is that Justice? We oughta sue!

13 Comments:

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