Friday, November 18, 2011
the verdict is in
The jury reached its verdict late Thursday afternoon. Even though I was not in the jury room and could not add to the deliberations, my fellow jurors did the right thing.
THE FACTS (as we know them)
In the early hours of a February morning in 2008, a bus carrying passengers from the Cache Creek Casino to Woodland went off the road, struck a telephone pole, and came to rest in a ditch. The driver, shortly before the accident, had screamed in pain and clutched his head, taking his hands off the wheel. When the bus came to a stop he was ejected out of the driver's front window and landed on the ground in front of the bus. He was not wearing a seat belt. No one on the bus was injured as he was traveling at only about 10 MPH. It took awhile for the passengers to get out of the bus ~ maybe 10 minutes ~ because of the angle at which the bus came to rest. One of the passengers, who knew the driver, went to check on him. He was "lying on his back" alive but groaning. She spoke to him told him not to move, that emergency assistance was on its way. She went to the rear of the bus to check on the rest of the passengers. When she return to the driver he had somehow re-situated himself, had done a 180º flip and was now on his face with his head under the front bumper of the bus. Firemen were the first emergency team on the scene. Soon came an ambulance with EMT personnel. A life-flight had been called to airlift the injured man to UCDMC trauma center. Several people worked on the driver, trying to get a definite airway, checking on his vitals, etc. In about 15 minutes the flight nurses arrived by helicopter. They also worked over the driver, trying to intubate him so get his breathing stabilized. Nothing worked so they decided to perform a cricothyrotomy to get an airway. They felt an obstruction and were unable to establish an airway. So they all jumped into the ambulance and took the driver to Woodland Memorial Hospital, not a trauma center but the closest medical facility. He was seen by the ER doc, by other docs, but they were unable to help him and he died. The family ~ common law wife, daughter, step-son, were seeking damages against the flight nurses and their company. The job for the jury? To decide if the flight nurse caused his death because of negligence.
There was a lot of conflicting testimony that the jury had to sort through. The forensic pathologist testifying for the plaintiffs said that the flight nurse had made an incision for the crico that was too deep. An anatomist testifying for the defendant said that when the driver was ejected he suffered probably fatal injuries when he hit the ground FACE DOWN. Hey, wait a minute. The first witness said he was on his back when she found him. The defense theory: the trajectory when he left the bus was such that he landed on his face. The torque was such that he would have rolled over almost immediately, not the least because it's a natural response to get your face out of the mud so you can breathe. My own theory is that's probably what happened, then he tried to get up and fell over. There were witnesses on both sides who were plausible, but more on the defense side than on the plaintiff's. The defendant was an excellent witness; calm, deliberate, knowledgeable . The opposing counsel was unable to rattle or shake him, and believe me, he tried. I now know more about the larynx, esophagus, venus plexis, and could probably perform a crico if I had to. After 15 days of testimony, countless gory pictures, especially of the autopsy (I think I'll skip this class when I go to medical school; too messy), charts and graphs, the defense's and the plaintiff's attorneys rested. Tuesday morning we heard final arguments. I didn't think either one of them did a good job; the plaintiff's attorney was insulting to the defendant and just plain mad. The defense attorney struggled to pin the death on one of the other responders. The jury got the case on Tuesday afternoon at about 2:30. I was excused and went home to wait. The jury went to work.
The jury was tasked with finding whether it was negligence on the part of the flight nurses that caused the driver's death. In a civil case there only needs to be nine jurors in agreement, one way or the other. On Thursday I got a call from the clerk that the jury had reached a verdict and would I please come back. So I tore over to Woodland and sat in the courtroom until all the various players were present. The jury came in, I took my place in the alternate's chair and waited. The foreman gave the results to the judge who read them, then passed the paper to the clerk. She read the verdict: "Question: Did Mr. Thomas Zoltansky, a flight nurse for CalStar, contribute to the death of Mr. XX through his negligence of care? Answer: No." The jury was polled; 10 - 2. I would have voted "no" also.
The first thing that happened was the plaintiffs erupted in screaming and swearing. The judge looked utterly appalled, as did the defense and most of the jurors. The judge banged his gavel, the bailiff was up in a flash, muttering into the little microphone on his shoulder, moving toward the family. He got them out of the courtroom with the help of two other sheriff deputies who came from down the hall. The jury was kept in the courtroom until the family was out of the building and out of the parking lot. We were then taken back to the jury room while the building was secured. The defendant and his lawyer came in to talk to us. It was then that we learned that the defendant had already gone through this ordeal twice; once by his company's insurance carrier, once by the state licensing bureau. Both times he had been completely exonerated. So for him, it's finally completely over.
It became increasingly clear that all the family was after was money. I wouldn't really call this a frivolous suit, but the family knew the flight nurse had been cleared, TWICE, of any culpability in the driver's death. Perhaps they though the third time would be a charm and they'd strike gold. Alas, it didn't happened.
After about half an hour the jurors were escorted out of the building by the sheriffs, seen to their cars, and directed out of the parking lot. I met with a couple of them later on to talk about how the deliberations had gone. Slowly but steadily. I think they came to the right conclusion.
So there you have it. Now it's on to Bozeman tomorrow for a week of family, food, dogs, snow and whatever else is in store for us. The rest of the group arrives on Wednesday. Then the fun will really get started. Until then, it will be getting to know the new kitchen (Jim) and playing with the dogs (that would be me!).
Here's a little taste of our gorgeous fall foliage here in the valley.
I'm taking the LapMac with me, and the camera. Next shots will be of, I would guess, snow.