To the editor:
In high school and college, the play 12 Angry Men was a cause
for vivid discussions and late night essays. I would have been the
juror that held out. A couple of years ago, while substituting for a
high school English teacher, I got to be on the other side of the
podium for the play. I was privileged to watch as another generation
picked apart the jury process.
I have great empathy for Dora Jablonski, victim of a fiery
crash, awarded a $43 million judgment in the "Judicial Hellhole of the United States."
It was a terrible accident and tragedy. It is natural to want someone to blame in such a case. I know when my brother was killed, I wanted some kind of justice and there was the railroad that
owned the train that hit him. It wasn't their fault though.
In case you missed it, Mrs. Jablonski was in a Ford Lincoln
Town Car with her husband, stopped in construction on the I-270 Bridge in July 2003. Natalie Ingram, an SIUE student, was fishing for her sunglasses and not paying attention to her driving. She plowed into the back of the Town Car at approximately 55 mph, according to accident re-constructionists, causing a freak chain-of-events resulting in the Jablonski's car bursting into flames.
Mr. Jablonski, heroically, unbuckled his wife's seatbelt and
pushed her out before exiting the vehicle himself; a move that
probably cost him his life.
Since Miss Ingram had no money, Ford was blamed and sued as responsible for the accident by the design of their car.
Bear in mind, Ford has had the same design for their Town Car
for 40 years. Town Cars are like driving a limo without the stretch.
They are expensive and the design affords the consumer the legroom and trunk room they crave. Any other design and it would be just another sedan. Also, bear in mind that only one Lincoln Town Car has burst into flames in a rear end collision – this one.
However, Ford did not place a loose wrench in the trunk and
Ford was not driving Miss Ingram's car. The impact of her speeding car on the stopped vehicle in front of her created a wrench missile,
catapulting it through the gas tank design that provides the luxury
space in such a car.
Ford and every other carmaker go to great lengths to test their designs for every conceivable common crash condition. In this decision, in essence, the jurors have said that Ford should include a
flying wrench in every test. In my life experience, there are tragic
accidents and then there are freak tragic accidents. This was the
latter. Ford may be paying – though I hope they appeal – but it will
be Ford drivers, like me, who will pay down the line.
Real trials aren't nearly as exciting as the ones on television shows, but a good personal injury attorney, one that actually sets foot in the courtroom and doesn't settle out of court, needs to be part dramatist, part salesman and part victimizer. This is especially true in a case this thin. They could easily switch to the
acting profession, but they would have to take a pay cut.
When I was a little girl and my dad was a judge, my fondest
desire was to grow up and sit on a jury. I would have appreciated
being on the Jablonski jury. They never would have picked me since I
knew the victim's attorney when he was a toddler and I used to work
for lawyers. Moreover, I have only been called once in the 32 years
since I registered to vote.
It is a sad state of affairs when the responsible party is
passed over for the innocent, long distance party with the deep
pockets, who must then pay for a woman's medical care and estate. As a local columnist, I lean heavily on Madison County and its
distinguished negative status, but this tragedy is occurring across
the country. It has created the atmosphere for our doctor exodus and
increasing insurance rates for everyone.
It is time we wake up and realize that accidents happen. I don't believe large corporations should have their pockets picked by trial lawyers. They are not guilty of anything but because an extremely sympathetic victim is wheeled into the courtroom and "the company can afford it and she needs it."
Friends and relatives often tell me that I would make a great
trial lawyer. I disagree. I want to be a Mr. Davis. Henry Fonda played the devil's advocate to the hilt. Granted it was a capital murder case and this was personal injury. Nevertheless, five and a half hours is a short trip to $43 million. Someone needed to reason with the other jurors, that just because a company has money doesn't make them responsible.
I have decided we should blame all of this on the advent of television. When lawyers had to chase ambulances one at a time they
couldn't be everywhere at once. Now, they never leave the studio!