Life is pain, Highness.

August 25, 2013 Comments Off on Life is pain, Highness.

I am not an excessively cynical person—rather the opposite, in point of fact—but even I am aware that terrible things happen daily to people who don’t deserve it, and there is nothing you can do. Your sister might die in a car crash five minutes from now. Previously unnoticed cancer might suddenly metastasize in your body. There might be a serial killer in your neighborhood tonight—whose turn is it to take the dog out after dinner?

Maybe it’s because we’re periodically very aware of all the things that might go wrong in the world and affect us and the people we love that we go so berserk when we think we’ve found a scapegoat. The plaintiffs in the trial I served as juror for in June wanted restitution after a doctor missed something that killed the man of the house a week after his ER visit and subsequent hospital admission. We can all understand the impulse. I agree that in a case of wrongful death it may be reasonable to supply a certain amount of money to offset the expected paychecks that will no longer be forthcoming. I will even grit my teeth and agree that that amount may include the money you would have saved because the guy was handy and fixed everything himself (although where does that leave people with all thumbs and their families?).

But the plaintiff’s lawyer made it clear to us that if we didn’t include at least as much money for “loss of society and companionship” as we did for lost paychecks, we were denying our shared humanity with the deceased. He explained gently that the best translation they had found for that crazy legalese was “heartache.” Wouldn’t we all, he implied, feel a little better if the doctor who callously consigned our loved one to the pits of whatever-it-was-that-killed-him really shelled out because of it?

I was dismissed as an alternate before deliberation, and although I was disappointed not to be able to share my nausea with the rest of the jury, it seems it’s for the best that I wasn’t present. They voted to award the family $850,000 for “heartache” alone. I’ve never heard of anything so appalling. There is such a thing as emotional damage that should be reimbursed by the justice system: ordinary grief when your husband dies unexpectedly is not it. Courts should only award emotional damages when the suffering in question was so unthinkable and terrible that throwing money at the sufferer is the only thing you can possibly think of that might ameliorate it. I keep trying to give concrete examples, but people balk when I do, so all I’ll say is, think prolonged, excruciating, repetitive, sadistic. Suddenly dropping dead in the arms of your son is far from the worst way to go, all things considered.

Yes, it’s sad. But it’s not the legal system’s job to make everyone feel better. It’s not the case that there is money to be had to salve every wound, and it’s just a matter of getting a slimy enough lawyer to manipulate a jury into giving it to you. The joy the wife will feel when she gets her check for $1.6m is nothing like the joy she would feel if her husband walked in the door (I presume). To suggest that it is is deeply offensive to me. Shit happens and it’s terrible and NO you don’t get any money for it. That’s called life. It’s one of those awful unpaid internships and “heartache” is part of the deal. Who do you think you are, that you are entitled to a lollipop and a pat on the head from the justice system? Give me a break.

I was upset for days after one of the other jurors (the only one, apparently, who thought like me) called to tell me what they’d decided. It still makes me angry. I like to think I would have laid rhetorical waste to that room, and made them make the right decision. But who knows. Maybe it’s better I didn’t get a chance to try. I kind of wanted to end this post with a crack about how I should sue for emotional damages, but now that cuts too close to the bone. What a BS trial. What a colossal misuse of the system.


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