A Jury’s Duty

If you’ve read the story of how my dad died, the following will make sense. Otherwise, I recommend you start there first.

Because my father’s accident happened at work, the impending $500,000 worth of hospital bills for his two weeks in the I.C.U. would fall under a workers compensation claim. Although my dad had been a truck driver for over 18 years at the time, he had only been employed with the company he worked for that day for less than 2 weeks. My dad worked in recycling for most of his career as a truck driver, this new job involved hauling scrap steel in short runs. He hadn’t even received his first paycheck when the accident occurred. Although both my parents had always worked, my dad was the primary earner of our household.

We were advised by many people around us to seek an attorney, the workers compensation claim would not easily sort itself out. We came into contact with our attorney by recommendation. The process was slow, I already had so much to take care of. My dad did not have a will and although my parents had purchased a burial plot in Inglewood many years before, we had decided we wanted to have him closer to us. I made the funeral arrangements, I sat with my mom while we went over so many details even though she didn’t have the mind for any of it. He was buried in a cemetery in Riverside, at the foot of the La Sierra hills in the only part of the graveyard that has a water feature. I’ve decided that when I die I’d like to be cremated and save my family the burden of having to go through that whole process.

I’d already been back at work for weeks at this point in time, I asked to work part time but Lowe’s would not accommodate kitchen designers with that kind of schedule. Like an answered prayer, I received a call from my old Home Depot manager. He offered me a flexible part time schedule and a pay increase, so back I went to the depot. I worked in Chino and took Sofia to my mother in law in Covina during the day. Sofia toggled between her two grandmothers as her childcare, I was just grateful I didn’t have to put her in a daycare as an infant. My pregnancy had been physically easy but emotionally difficult, I had worried about how I would take care of my baby knowing that I would have to continue to work full time. Aside from knowing that I was having a baby with a responsible man, my parent’s support had been a huge factor in the situation. They put me at ease that we would make it work together. However, without my dad there was a huge a part of our system now missing.

Starting a lawsuit was simple enough, we signed some papers and the attorney and her team took care of the rest. My dad always thought I’d be a lawyer because of my argumentative skills, but now having been through that process and knowing the amount of paperwork involved, I have no desire to follow that dream. It would take almost two years to get in front of a jury, the discovery process was exhausting and it took a very long time to get down to the details of how and why the accident happened.

My dad had been on the job only a few hours that morning, his truckload was being offloaded and he had stepped out of his truck. There were several trucks inside a hangar, it was an overcast day and the area was unpaved. At some point my dad was standing with his back turned away from the offloading area. There were no safety zones marked on the ground, the area was very noisy because of the steel offloading but my dad wore a bright safety vest and hard hat as were required. Unbeknownst to my dad, a truck without a back-up alarm was making his way backwards 300 feet without a spotter, straight into the area where he was standing. By the time he turned, the loaded truck had hit him and rolled over his lower torso. Witnesses in the area said didn’t know what had happened until they heard his screams.

We had to sue several parties involved, there was obvious and clear negligence. The premises on which the accident occured, California Steel Industries (CSI), was off the hook because they had signed liability waivers from everyone who conducted business on their premises. CSI is a remnant portion of what once was the Kaiser Steel Mill in Fontana. The primary lawsuit was against the company that was in charge of the operation and the trucking company who owned the truck that ran him over. We went through days of depositions, sat through several attempts at arbitration and the company that ran the operation opted to pay out in lieu of going to trial. The defense for the trucking company was ruthless, their main lawyer was a condescending asshole from day one. The arbitration process with them went nowhere until we had to accept that we’d have no choice to push on with a trial in front of a judge and jury.

I was not present for the jury selection process, out of the week long process our lawyer asked us to testify during a two day period. The questioning was simple enough, we went through our life with my father and they showed photos of us together, it is all a method to gain empathy from the jury.

I noticed the defense attorney liked to crack jokes with the jury, as if they were there to be entertained. I felt like the jury treated it like it was a reality t.v. show and the lawyers were their hosts. The jury was a mix of people, several different ethnicities, age groups and equal men and women. After their verdict I would learn more about them as a whole. One woman, who happened to be married to surgeon, would state that she was not convinced that my father died due to the accident, that he could’ve died because he “choked on something in the hospital”. Another juror would make comments that our attorney looked like a blonde Sandra Bullock, as if this was anything that mattered. These were the fucking idiots who sat on this jury panel. The jury would decide against us. It was because of the sheer insolence of people like this that I was not surprised when Trump was elected president, we live in a world where people live to be entertained, who long for the next distraction, and who can’t be bothered to analyze facts and think critically. Worst of all, people feel “burdened” by the privilege of serving on a jury and being allowed make critical decisions that affect people’s lives.

I hope to god I get to serve on a jury one day, just to get to play a part and actually do the right thing. Also, to get the chance to set anyone straight from their tv brain if necessary. I implore you, as a fellow American, to take jury duty seriously. You never know whose life you’ll be affecting with your involvement or lack thereof.

Even the judge could not believe ineptitude of the jury, so he advised we go through the appeals process. The defense knew they would not be so lucky a second time around and we settled without having to go through another court trial. It was an exhausting, disheartening process, as if losing my father had not been enough, now I’d also been let down by the judicial system on top of it all.

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