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The verdict stands

The Daily Record has posted a few stories on the recent carbon monoxide trial featuring lawyers from the legendary Murphy Firm. A Baltimore City jury compensated 20 restaurant employee plaintiffs in that case with $34.3 million dollars. Plaintiffs argued that a hotel hot water heater leaked dangerous carbon monoxide into the Ruth’s Chris restaurant.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that can cause a range of physical complications, including headaches, nausea, vomiting, weakness, disorientation and death.  Over the long-term, it can harm memory and brain function. The amount of leaked carbon monoxide was over seven times the amount that requires evacuation of a building.

Post-trial motions for the defense were unavailing — they filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on two parts of the claim, a motion for new trial, and a motion to reduce the verdict per the statutory cap ($695,000 per plaintiff for non-economic damages). The reports indicate that the judge denied all of these motions — the most interesting here is the judge’s refusal to apply to cap, likely because the plaintiffs argued, and the jury found, intentional conduct. The cap doesn’t apply to intentional torts because it was designed to reduce the cost of liability insurance, which does not typically provide coverage for intentional torts. Plaintiffs argued that the defendants purposely removed a safety device that would have prevented leakage of the carbon monoxide.

Clearly, this is the type of high-profile case about which people will have strong opinions. Being a plaintiffs’ lawyer, even though this was not a case that I was involved in, I’m glad the injured victims received a good outcome following their day in court. I’m sure there are defense lawyers out there who think the outcome was ridiculous. And, there are probably non-lawyers who have every opinion in between.

The important thing about trials is that, whatever opinions you and I might have, we are not entitled to them. Our opinions are based on selective culling and reporting of the evidence by the media. We were not there for the 13 weeks of trial. We did not live with all of the evidence. We did not hash it out with our peers, struggling to find a fair resolution. We are all simply pot-bellied Monday morning quarterbacks.

It’s easy to judge a jury for doing a “good” or “bad” job. The jury who evaluated the McDonald’s coffee cup case, now a poster child for changes to the tort system, certainly felt the harsh judgment of society when they finished their civic duty. But you know what? We weren’t there. Based on what happened in the case, they had reasons for their verdict. It is not our place to judge (for more on the coffee case, click here).

Opinions were likewise divergent with the reporting of criminal and civil trials of O.J. Simpson. In that case, many of us non-jurors followed the coverage and even watched significant portions of the trial, but we did not sit through the eleven-month criminal trial or the three-month civil trial. None of us pored through the evidence, or heard every single witness testify.

The jury system is one of the cornerstones of our society. If nothing else, those jurors who do their job and evaluate the merits of a case should be given respect. They took time out of their lives to do something that most people try to avoid, and made a necessary decision.

One comment

  1. was this supposed to be funny? Actually we are all allowed to have an opinion. I wonder how many of the jurors actually were awake for a 12 week trial or understood any of the expert testimony. I believe the expression of noting being able to see the forest through the trees applies.