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Winning But Losing Verdict

Sometimes at dinner or a reception, someone will ask me if I am working on any exciting cases. Even as I typed that last sentence, I wondered how to respond, and that’s usually what happens when I’m asked that question.

Clients’ secrets and confidences normally put some restriction on what I can say. But, the truth is, I usually am working on “some exciting cases”.  In my mind, I define that as unusual and challenging.

The restricti0n on discussion is waived a bit, if I have filed suit. It’s odd though; I never describe a jury trial case. Maybe that’s because I’m not actually working on those right then.. Plus, my mind works like an old number 9 wash tub, which makes me forget details of  past cases, after I don’t need to know them  … first you fill it up and then you empty it when done.

So, while thinking about cases, and number 9 wash tubs, I sorta traveled down memory lane and did think about some past trials. One that specifically came to mind was the one that I always describe as “the one I won but lost”.

I had been practicing law for less than a year. Have you ever heard someone say that they “need a young lawyer who is willing to fight for me but won’t cost a lot of money”. Yep, that was me. Especially the money part; because I did not have that many cases to work on. Self-employed with more emphasis on self.

So, one day, a boy that had just enlisted in the military came to see me. He told me the story about a Navy chief  that had gotten drunk and beaten him up. He wanted me to sue the chief. I know, I should have stopped there. But a consultation only, doesn’t make for a  blog story about winning and losing.

I told him that I would take the case. I don’t even know if I understood the difference between negligence and intentional tort. The easiest way to describe that is that intentional means, NO INSURANCE is paying for the damages. That chief meant to hurt that new enlistee. Oh yes, they had both been drinking at the same place too.

I filed suit for civil damages relating to assault. The chief hired an attorney and never made an offer. That was OK, because I was ready to go to trial.

We put on our case. I cross-examined  the defendant. The jury seemed to be listening attentively; Although, while the trial was going on, I did notice that my client probably weighed 80-100 lbs. more than the defendant. That detail had previously escaped me. I just kept saying to myself…. assault has nothing to do with weight. Plus, my minister used to say, “the  freedom for your fist stops where my nose begins”.

I introduced my client’s hospital bill through him and after all the testimony, the jury got the case in about 2 hours. That included picking the jury and the Judge’s instructions.

The jury was out about 40 minutes. They came back with the verdict form in their hands and the judge asked the foreman to stand and read the verdict. “We the jury, find in favor of the plaintiff”.

My heart took a bit of a jump because I knew my client had won. The foreman went on to say, ” and award damages in the amount of $1″. I think I noticed the Judge fight a smile back.

The Judge then thanked the jury for their service and excused them. I walked my client out of the courtroom and into the hallway. I tried to give him some “glass half full” by saying that at least the jury had believed him.

He thanked me for “going to the mat for him”.  At the time,  humor was not proper, but  I thought , “look, I’ll waive my 1/3 attorney fee. You can keep the whole dollar”. Taking that case to trial made me realize that I was really a “glass half fool”.

Now, pic o’ day. It might be how I looked when the jury said “one dollar”.

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