Jury Duty (part 2)

Yesterday I shared some general impressions of my 4-day jury duty experience last week. Today I’m going to delve into the details of the case.

This is not in any way to sensationalize or trivialize this case; these are real people who have gone through an ordeal, and I have empathy for both of them. Rather, I think the case raised some interesting questions about perception and personal responsibility. Also, it’s a civil case, so it’s public knowledge. Despite that, I’m going to change the names and not get too specific.

Here’s what happened a few years ago on a clear day in St. Louis: The defendant was driving down a two-way street (with parking lanes on either side). She realized that she had passed her destination, so when she reached an intersection, she checked her mirrors (and didn’t see anyone), slowed down, swung right, and began to make a U-turn.

Behind the defendant was the plaintiff, who was driving a minivan with her child in the back. From her perspective, she saw the car ahead of her begin to turn right (or maybe pull over into the parking lane), so she continued driving forward. Suddenly, the defendant veered left, and the plaintiff–driving at around 30 mph–swerves to the left, the front right of her minivan smashing into the front left wheelbase of the defendant’s car.

Both cars have significant damage. The defendant was okay, but the plaintiff is badly injured in the crash. The trial was mostly focused on the plaintiff’s injury, the surgeries and physical therapy that follow, and how she has adapted and limited her life around the injury.

There’s no video footage of the crash, just a few photos taken afterwards by the defendant (if there’s any takeaway from this process, it is to take photos of everything from every angle if you get in any type of accident or incident). Part of the trial was spent determining–through photos and the drivers themselves–exactly what happened.

Before I continue with my conclusions and what the jury ultimately decided, take a second to assign a percentage of fault to the defendant (the person in front making the sudden U-turn) and the plaintiff (the person in the minivan). Got it? Okay, keep reading.

***My Conclusion***

As the trial progressed, it became increasingly clear to me that the defendant absolutely should not have made a U-turn in this circumstance. It was reckless, careless, and unnecessary. Her behavior gave every indication that she was turning right or pulling into the parking lane. Plus, by veering right and then swerving left, she should have yielded to cars driving behind her. I place 90% of the liability on the defendant.

As for the plaintiff, I think this is a situation where an exceptionally careful driver could have maybe avoided the accident. But if you see a car turning right, you only need to slow down enough to give them time to make the right turn–I could easily see anyone proceeding with minimal caution, assuming the car in front will soon be out of their way. However, she probably could have slowed down a bit more just in case, so I place 10% of the liability on the plaintiff.

***Jury Conclusion***

I was on the jury as an alternate, so I was not allowed to discuss the case at all with the jury. However, as I left them to their deliberations, I was sure that the case was fairly cut and dry. I just can’t imagine anyone thinking that the U-turn was safe and appropriate to make.

However, as I learned later, I was an outlier on the jury. They decided that only 25% of the blame was on the defendant and 75% of the blame was on the plaintiff. I was shocked to hear this.

***Your Conclusion***

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

9 thoughts on “Jury Duty (part 2)”

  1. Did the driver making the U-Turn give a proper turn signal? And…?was a u-turn a legal move in that area? If not, then I would judge her 95% at fault.

    Reply
    • The defendant claims to have slowed down and turned on her left blinker, though she also admitted that she swung to the right before beginning the U-turn. There was no sign indicating that U-turns were illegal–it was just a normal 2-way city street. There was some contention that legally she had an obligation to yield to drivers with the right of way (drivers behind her).

      Reply
  2. Common sense = I agree with you (or if there was a double yellow line in the intersection). Rule of responsibility = Driver following must stop to avoid collision – even erratic moves. So I can see where attorneys got the “rules” to sway to defendant as less responsible.

    A jury room is a strange place where peer pressure can come into play. I was once the only opposing viewpoint in a case, 11-1 vote, near 4PM. People wanted to get home. It was a difficult spot to be in. Judge kept us there through dinner they brought in. During our discussions the two sides settled.

    Reply
  3. Wow. yeah, based on what you shared, I agree with you on this one. Even if a U-turn is legal in that place, it’s the turning car’s responsibility to make sure they have clearance to make that turn. You can’t pull to the right and then cross multiple lanes of traffic without making sure that there aren’t any cars in those lanes of traffic, before you start and again before you cross lanes of traffic. If the lead driver had just tried to U-turn without pulling to the right first, then the accident wouldn’t have happened. Some blame is likely retained by the back driver. I assume that 30mph is above the speed limit for that street, so they could have driven more slowly and especially slowed down approaching an intersection when the car in front is turning. That said, I wouldn’t give them more than 25%, probably less.

    I’m curious whether the police were called to the site of the accident or if they just handled it by exchanging information. Having the police come to document things might have been helpful. I’m also curious what happened with their insurance companies (assuming they had insurance). It seems that the insurance companies would have been litigating responsibility here, as they would ultimately be the ones paying the bills. So maybe there wasn’t insurance involved, which is why it got to a civil case.

    Reply
    • Police did indeed show up, and there was some documentation from them, but no additional photos. I think insurance was involved, though we weren’t able to factor it into our decision.

      Reply
    • I think it was 30 mph. The defense suggested that maybe the plaintiff was driving quickly, but he didn’t go into it all that much (he didn’t try to prove it).

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  4. I was very surprised by that conclusion. I’m with you on this one. A u-turn can be a risky maneuver. The person making the u-turn has a lot of responsibility in making sure it’s safe and clear. She failed to account for the car behind and made an unpredictable turn by going out to the right first. Sure, the trailing car has some responsibility to leave a safe distance and try to avoid a collision, but that’s a lot to ask of someone if the car in front of them becomes unpredictable and does something careless. I’d fully agree with your assessment, and I’m astounded the jury gave the plaintiff more than 50% of the blame.

    Reply

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