Thursday, November 17, 2005

Jury Doody

After three days of secrecy, I'm now free to discuss my virgin jury experience. I've done jury duty several times without ever making it past voir dire, but Monday was my "lucky" day. Perhaps the fact that I reported to the courtroom with a big clod of dog shit on my shoe had something to do with it.

The case involved a cement truck driver carrying a full load to a new subdivision out near Wimberley in 2000. Upon reaching a rather treacherous downward grade, the driver apparently missed his gear and the truck began coasting down the hill at a high rate of speed. He lost control of the truck and hit a tree. The impact ejected the driver from the truck and he was killed.

The autopsy found trace amounts of a cocaine metabolite (but no actual cocaine) in the driver's urine, which the insurance company immediately set upon as justification for denying the driver's wife's worker's compensation claim. The Texas Worker's Compensation Commission (TWCC) also denied her claim, stating the driver was intoxicated. The driver had tested positive for cocaine in random drug tests on two separate occasions, but the question wasn't whether he used cocaine.

Instead, we were trying to determine whether or not he was intoxicated at the time of the accident. All of the medical evidence presented to us indicated that the amount of metabolite found in his body at the time of death was far too small to have caused intoxication. There was also testimony from the driver's wife and colleagues stating he didn't appear to be intoxicated, but it was the testimony from the Travis County Deputy Medical Examiner that convinced me he probably wasn't high when he crashed. She wasn't inclined to favor either side, and yet it was her strong opinion the driver wasn't intoxicated.

Most of my fellow jurors agreed. We returned a 10-2 vote after the presiding juror read the charge. A unanimous verdict wasn't necessary, so deliberations were over in about 15 minutes. I was glad the evidence overwhelmingly supported the widow because I wasn't looking forward to the possibility of returning a verdict against her.

Frankly, I was surprised the insurance company's attorney didn't introduce more evidence supporting the intoxication charge when the driver's wife's attorney had plenty to indicate the driver was not intoxicated. I for one would've liked to see what TWCC was looking at when they made their ruling. If they were seeing the same evidence we saw, I can't see how they could possibly say the driver was intoxicated without having a strong predisposition toward the insurance industry. But that's just me.

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