Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Win Friends on a Jury

The Times auto section contains the hilarious details of traffic collision case settled out of court in 2003 for a reported $6 million involving a young Paris Hilton-wannabe and an off-duty police officer in Palmdale. Guess who was talking on the cell phone? Obstensibly, the article was about the doubling of cell phone use by drivers in the US since 2000, and limits on auto liability insurance stemming from distracted motorists. But, the details are too good to pass up:

Although the teenager denied using a cellphone at the time of the accident, her phone records showed that she was on a call at the approximate time of the crash."

She said she hung up before the accident," said Hugh J. Grant, the attorney for the young defendant. "The jury didn't believe her."

Indeed, the jury delivered a stunning award: $7.3 million for the officer.

Who was going to pay for this and why did the jury give so much? Many cases involving death or permanent disability result in less compensation to victims. Even many drunk driving cases result in lower awards. But this was no ordinary case.

"It was an angry jury," recalled R. Rex Parris, the Lancaster attorney who represented the police officer.

"It was a very unusual case with some very unusual injury allegations," Grant said.

What inflamed the jury? Was it the cellphone? The fact that the injured defendant was a police officer? The behavior of the defendant?

The teenager "showed up with a $1,000 Louis Vuitton purse and $1,000 spike heels," Parris said. "I just wanted the jury to see the purse again. She didn't want to show it. I asked her if she had the cellphone with her. When she pulled it out, the power was on. She had come to court with a cellphone turned on. The jury was kind of incensed by the whole thing."

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