BEING A CIVIL CASE JUROR

You come home from work on a Tuesday evening, retrieve the mail from the box, head into your home, and toss the mail on the kitchen table. A few hours later, you pick up the envelopes (bill, bill, bill, what’s this?). This, is a letter from your local judiciary, COMMANDING you to be at a certain place, on a certain date, at a certain time (or to make yourself available during a certain time period!). Not exactly a friendly, “how ya do’in” from the County Clerk. We, at Roth & Associates, understand being a juror is not the ideal way to spend a day, but we want you to know how much we appreciate you exercising your civil duty. We would like to tell you what being a civil juror means, as well as letting you in on a few secrets no one in the courtroom will tell you.

When you are called upon to be the decider in a civil case, you will be hearing cases that revolve around non-criminal, non-juvenile, and non-family (think divorces) issues. Civil cases range from personal injury automobile wrecks to property disputes. The outcome, almost always, will be decided in a money judgment. That is, how much money is the Plaintiff entitled to based on the law and facts presented to you by the attorneys, witnesses, and experts. By law, there are certain details of every civil case the jury is not allowed to be told by the attorneys, witnesses, and experts; but, 99 out of 100 times is important to the juror’s decision.

First, the Defendant in the case, especially if it is a business, or it involves a car wreck, has insurance. This means, every cent- you as the juror- award the Plaintiff does not come from the Defendant, but from the Defendant’s insurance company. Second, the Defendant did not hire his/her attorney. The Defendant’s insurance company hired the Defendant’s attorney. Third, there is no penalty against the Defendant or the Defendant’s insurance company when they do not pay legitimate claims (Texas only). Lastly, before the Plaintiff can take possession of the money you, as the juror, awarded him/her, he/she must first pay all medical expenses he/she incurred as a result of the harm caused by the Defendant (typically pertains to personal injury cases).

That all sounds like pretty relevant information; information, which could better, help you, as the juror, come to a well-informed decision, doesn’t it?   So the next time you are COMMANDED or SUMMONED to fulfill your duty in a civil case, please keep those secrets in mind.

WASHINGTON STATE MEDICAL MALPRACTICE: PLAINTIFF FRIENDLY

Here in the Evergreen State, Plaintiffs’ enjoy certain statutory rules that Plaintiffs in other states are not so fortunate to have. First, while not being the only state in the US to have a three year statute of limitations, most states preclude a Plaintiff from bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit after two years from the date the injured person suffered their injury at the hand of a medical professional. Furthermore, if an injured person is the victim of medical negligence and three years passes before learning of the injury, the Plaintiff, here in Washington, has one year from the date of discovering the injury to bring a lawsuit against the responsible party. Additionally, when the injured person is a minor (i.e. under the age of eighteen), the three-year statute of limitations is tolled or stops running until the minor child reaches the age of majority or eighteen. This means, that a minor child’s parents may bring suit on behalf of the injured child before he/she reaches eighteen or the minor child preserves the right to sue for one year after reaching the age of majority.

Second, most states require expert witness review of an injury before a Plaintiff is able to bring their case into the judicial realm. Washington however, does not require expert review/testimony in all medical malpractice actions. If the medical negligence is “obvious,” the Plaintiff is not required to use expert testimony to prove their case. So what is obvious? “Expert testimony is not necessary if the applicable standard of care and its violation is within the common knowledge of laymen.” Harris v. Groth, 99 Wash. 2d 438, 663 P.2d 113 (1983).

Lastly, in the past two decades, tort reform swept through this country limiting the amount of compensation a harmed person could receive as a result of being the victim of a tort. Medical Malpractice was not immune from this overhaul in legislative reform. Many states, “capped” the amount of damages a Plaintiff could recover by law. However, Washington refused to impose a ceiling on damages. In 1989 the Washington Supreme Court held damage caps to be unconstitutional and the legislature has not abrogated this ruling since it was decreed.

If you believe you have suffered an injury as a result of medical malpractice, please call Roth & Associates. We have many talented attorneys who can help you and your family recover for the medical errors of others.

SPOLIATION IN TEXAS AND WASHINGTON STATE

Unless you are an attorney, you probably never heard of spoliation.  Spoliation is a fancy way of saying that someone has destroyed evidence.  Whether that evidence is a document, videotape, or picture, when a person or entity deliberately or negligently destroys a piece of evidence that tends to prove or disprove something, that person or entity has committed a civil wrong.  How do courts punish those persons or entities that engage in spoliation?

Texas

In Texas, a recent Texas Supreme Court ruling has many attorneys and legal minds opining that spoliation is dead.  The case, Brookshire Brothers., LTD, v. Aldridge, 438 S.W. 3d 9 (2014)., attempted to define the parameters of sanctions when a party is thought to have committed spoliation and what jury instructions are proper.  The Court’s opinion is important because it clearly bifurcated the use of a jury charge based on whether the party thought to have destroyed evidence, destroyed that evidence negligently or willfully.  The former allowing a jury charge only in the rarest of situations and the latter allowing when a party acts “with the subjective purpose of concealing or destroying discoverable evidence.”  However, it should be noted that even when spoliation has occurred, a trial court does not automatically have to charge a jury with spoliation instructions.  A trial court may use a lesser sanction to remedy the destruction of evidence if the trial court believes it will be sufficient.  In conclusion, the Texas Supreme Court opinion severely limits a trial court’s discretion when deciding whether a party is entitled to spoliation jury instructions.  Negligent spoliation will almost never warrant spoliation instructions and intentional spoliation must be unequivocal in order to have a jury consider sanctions against the party thought to have destroyed evidence.

Washington

In contrast, Washington State applies a different standard when considering destruction of evidence and the penalties against the destroying party.  The leading case detailing spoliation in Washington State is Pier 67, Inc. v. King County, 89 Wash.2d 379, 573 P.2d 2 (Wash. 1977).  In Pier, the Court held, “ where relevant evidence which would properly be part of a case is in control of a party whose interests it would naturally be to produce it and he fails to do so, without satisfactory explanation, the only inference the finder of fact may draw is that such evidence would be unfavorable to him.”  Pier makes clear that when a party learns of another party’s failure to produce evidence that is unfavorable to the non-producing party, a jury must assume the non-producing party failed to produce the evidence because it was detrimental to the non-producing party’s case.  However, the non-producing party is sometimes afforded the right to give “satisfactory explanation.”  Explanations must describe the importance of the missing evidence and the fault of the non-producing party.  That is, how detrimental was the non-produced evidence to the non-producing party’s case and whether it was not produced due to willfulness or negligence.

Difference?

Requesting a court of law to charge a jury with spoliation instructions in Texas is a much more difficult request than in Washington State.  It is a fine example of how laws in different jurisdictions affect litigants.  Whether you are seeking justice in Texas, Washington, or any other state in our country, Roth & Associates has an understanding of even the most nuanced of laws and will seek just compensation for you and your family.