Tag Archive for 'jury'

Successful Landslide Lawsuits

Landslides are a large risk in elevated parts of the United States, such as the Appalachians, Northwestern United States, and Southern California. Landslides claim a billion dollars in property damage and cause 25 deaths each year.

Most landslides are triggered by natural events, such as earthquakes or heavy rainfall. However, humans can also contribute to landslides. Although successful landslide lawsuits are uncommon, here are three recent cases that succeeded:

La Conchita landslide lawsuit1) La Conchita – 2008

La Conchita, California has a history of landslides. The landslide of 2005 was the most devastating. That landslide destroyed thirteen homes and killed ten people. The families of the deceased sued La Conchita City and La Conchita Ranch Co., a ranch on top of a hill overlooking the residences.

The jury determined that the city was not liable, but La Conchita Ranch was fifty percent liable because they failed to install a proper drainage system which would have diverted some of the rain water. $5 million was divided between thirty-six plaintiffs.

2) Rolling Hills – 2010

In 2005, 300 feet of rocks and debris collapsed onto Poppy Trail residence area. The retaining wall holding back the rocks was eroded after a winter of heavy rainfall. Roadways were blocked, cutting off passage to nearby houses. Residents were forced to use all-terrain vehicles to access their multimillion dollar homes.

The slide also resulted in a guesthouse hanging over the edge of a small cliff. If the cliff had collapsed, the guesthouse would have fallen on top of the other houses. The owner of the guesthouse refused to repair his property, but subsequently disappeared from the state.

In the end, a settlement was reached. Two new driveways were constructed and the hanging cliffside guesthouse was demolished. Residents received $40,000 in damages each.

3) Mill Valley – 2007

In 2006, 70 Bolsa Avenue was destroyed by a mudslide. Walter Guthrie was removing debris around his house when it happened. He was crushed to death when an avalanche of mud came down after hours of rain.

His widow, Lisa Guthrie, sued the city for property and personal damage because the city knew about the dangerous conditions of the hill overlooking the Guthrie house, but failed to act. The jury awarded $4.8 million as a result.

Since the jury also found contributory negligence on Walter’s part, the judge lowered the final award to $4 million. However, it is still difficult to find fault with a man who was trying to save the house he and his family had lived in for thirty-five years.

Gambler Sues Casino after Losing $500K While Drunk

If you lose big at Las Vegas, what is the fastest way out of debt? Mark Johnston is boldly doing what every unlucky gambler has thought about doing. Johnston is suing to casino in an effort to declare his $500,000 loss as null and void.

Gambling Drunk Sues CasinoOn January 30th, Johnston decided to spend the weekend at Las Vegas. The self-made millionaire often gambled for fun. Johnston departed from California, where he lives, for Las Vegas from Burbank airport. Before take-off, he had two drinks. During the flight, he had another drink. On his limousine ride from the airport, he had two more drinks. During dinner, he had several more drinks.

After dinner, Johnston claims to have blacked out, with no recollection of what happened until he woke up in his hotel room. Apparently, Johnston had spent the 17 hours between dinner and his hotel room gambling at Downtown Grand. He was also drinking while he was losing all his money. Johnston had more than 20 drinks, to the point where he was confusing chip colors and slurring his speech.

Johnston’s entire lawsuit rests on a Nevada regulation that forbids casinos from allowing visibly drunk customers from gambling. The regulation also prohibits casinos from giving free alcohol to obviously drunk patrons. Case law is divided on the subject. Some courts have ruled in favor of drunken gamblers, holding that casinos have a duty not to take advantage of visibly intoxicated people.

Other judges, including Supreme Court Justice Alito, have ruled against gamblers. Justice Alito, as a circuit judge, wrote that it would be too difficult to determine if a gambler was truly too drunk to be responsible. Alito feared that gamblers would take advantage of the law if courts began voiding debts based on how much alcohol the gambler had consumed prior to hitting the casino floor.

What Is the Point of Suing the Casino?

Johnston insists he is not a sore loser. Johnston claims he has the ability to pay his debt, but he feels that the casino took advantage of him while he was vulnerable. Frankly, I don’t see how a jury would buy that. Johnston has a history of gambling and he made a decision to go to Vegas while he was still sober.

Johnston also claims that his case is actually about the casino nearly killing him. He says Downtown Grand fed him enough drinks over the course of 17 hours to endanger his health. That might be true, and a court could award him damages for that. However, I don’t see how his alcohol binge is related to his debt. Even if the casino did slip Johnston enough alcohol to incapacitate him, Johnston went to Vegas in order to gamble. Johnston must have foreseen that he could have lost a lot of money, regardless of whether he was sober or not.

In Las Vegas, most casinos prefer to quietly settle such lawsuits without public scrutiny. However, Downtown Grand only opened last November, so it’s possible the casino might let this case go to trial. I think most casinos would win if these cases went to trial since most juries would believe that the gambler caused his own debt, regardless of what Nevada law says. However, even if casinos could win in court, they might lose business.

If gamblers hear that juries won’t bail them out after a drunken bout of gambling, they might be more reluctant to play. On the other hand, casinos which frequently settle lawsuits involving drunken gambling might be sued in the hopes that the casino will settle the case. Johnston’s wealth will save him regardless of the outcome, but for less fortunate debtors who drink and gamble, this case might be an alternative to bankruptcy.

Portraits of Jury Truants

Have you ever received a jury duty summons and wondered “why me?” If yes, then you are not alone. While everyone should serve their duty, there will always be some who sneak out.


Apparently, jury avoidance is a hot topic. Today, websites claiming to offer guaranteed ways to avoid jury duty abound more than ever. Are we more apathetic, sybaritic, and self-indulgent today, or should we blame the busy court dockets, an avalanche in litigation, and an under-funded court systems? I won’t propose an answer here. But hopefully these portraits of truants who make sport of dodging their jury duties will cause them to look into the mirror and be ashamed of themselves.

“Know-It-All”: It seems that this person is an expert on everything. The enlightened opinion of “Mr. Know-It-All” no doubt obfuscates the presence of the judge, the jury, an expert witness, and for that matter the whole court trial. And, this is precisely the reason why Mr. “Know-It-All” is way overqualified to serve on the laypersons’ jury. So with a round of applause and a sense of relief let’s send the learned pundit away.

“No Englis”: Is it possible for a law school valedictorian to suddenly and completely and randomly lose recollection of his native English tongue—coincidentally, just as his deadline for jury service is fast-approaching? Perhaps he should have attended acting school.

A Good Old Boy”: Do you know somebody who knows somebody in the law enforcement? That distant somebody – a friend or a relative you’ve never seen in your life but always wanted to meet – may prove to be a useful connection that can serve you well. And, the best thing is that you don’t have to send in candies, “thank you” notes, or pay a visit to your favorite friend or kindred in the middle of nowhere. A potential juror with a law enforcement link is feared, respected, and regularly taken off the jury.

“The Pious”: Thankfully if all else fails, we have G-d. Apparently being a believer can finally pay in real dividends. And, the best part is that it doesn’t really matter what you believe in, as long as you believe that one cannot render judgment against another fellow being. Are you a tree hugger or a sky kisser? Does walking courthouse hallways strain your precious chakras and makes you fear reincarnation into an ant? Do you cry and wet your bad often after daily prayers? If so, you may suffer from piety. Pious people are just too good to serve on the juries with the rest of us, and so often they don’t.

“The Underdog”: The underdog’s tirade starts off by recounting his endless battles with the system and dramatic encounters with authorities and concludes with a call to the masses for revolution. While the revolutionary call is likely to remain unhearkened, why take chances… So, our revolutionary underdog is sent away to agitate the masses elsewhere.

“A Sycophant”: Also referred to as “ass-kisser” in common English, this character is a great psychologist. Instead of shying away from the jury duty, he is eager to find any reason to justify serving on the jury. And, this is exactly why he is let off the hook. The sycophant is a flawless citizen: he has no biases, no time-conflicts, and no qualms about anything. The first cousin of the pious type, the sycophant is ready to jump out of his pants to serve on the jury and placate the judge, and hence is usually sent away from the jury crowd to hang out with his flawless pious compatriots.

“The Hypochondriac”: Do you invariably want to sneeze when your bladder feels full? Well, count yourself lucky: you must have cystitis, as well as a cold. Does that make you anxious? Congrats: you will be seeing a psychoanalyst for your anxiety disorder for the rest of your life… Does that make you cringe? Very well: you have a hump – seek chiropractor immediately. Even though a hypochondriac invents many ailments and symptoms, he may also subjectively believe in them, making his excuses so much more believable. A sanatorium, not a courthouse, is a proper repository for such a self-proclaimed patient, who in truth only appears to suffer from hypochondria, a real psychological condition, to evade serving his duty.

“The Excuse Expert”: Apparently, some prospective jurors believe in quantity over quality, and instead of focusing on one good excuse, real or invented, they open up the flood gates burying the entire courtroom in a barrage of inconsistencies. In any case, a potential juror who is taking an exotic vacation, undergoing an ophthalmologic surgery, and doing all of that while attending a baby-shower and a funeral for his favorite hamster, may after all be too busy for jury service on that day.

Jury truancy may come at a high cost. Judges have a lot of discretion to penalize those who spin lies shamelessly and without any fear, as if they are not in the court of law. Therefore, even from a pragmatic standpoint, serving one’s jury duty may be less cumbersome than making things up and entangling oneself in a sticky web of confusing lies that are all too obvious to the judge. Also, appearing for the jury service and actually serving on a jury is an extraordinarily fulfilling and educating civic experience that one has no excuse to forgo.

Homosexuals Should Be Among a Jury of Our Peers

Jury of Our Peers

Contrary to popular belief, the Constitution does not give citizens the right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers. The Sixth Amendment only guarantees a trial by an impartial jury.  However, the idea that we should be judged by people like us—by our peers—has been strongly ingrained into the minds of most Americans. Indeed, the jury is often used as a measurement to determine who we are as a country.

In criminal cases covered by the media, the makeup of the jury is closely analyzed and criticized. The George Zimmerman trial, for example, featured an all female jury—but no African Americans. This fueled feelings that Trayvon Martin was deprived of justice. Although it is folly to believe an African American would have automatically found Zimmerman guilty, having someone “like” the victim on the jury would have given the impression that the jury was more representative of the population. A jury of one’s peers gives legitimacy to jury verdicts.

Jury Box

There is no law which requires racial diversity on a jury. In fact, a portion of the jury system functions much like the nation’s employment system: a candidate can be released from service for any reason as long as it is not an illegal reason. Attorneys who help pick jurors, like employers, are not obligated to give good reasons to let someone go. Indeed, the standard for jury selection is so low that the reason for striking a person from a jury does not even have to be persuasive. For example, a person has been discharged from jury selection because a lawyer did not like his beard.

Diversity is not a jury requirement, but there are rules regarding jury makeup. Race and gender, for instance, cannot be a reason for dismissing a person from jury service. Race and gender were singled out for legal protection because race and gender had historically been used to keep groups of people out of society entirely. Excluding people from jury duty on the basis of race or gender was merely one more way to ignore these groups of people. The rules regarding race or gender discrimination in jury selection was part of a larger effort to correct past injustice. People with beards have not been historically targeted for persecution (if they were, it was because of religion, and not the fact they wore beards).A recent anti-trust appeal in Oakland, California, will test whether sexual orientation can be added to this short list of exceptions.

Extending Court Discrimination Rules

GlaxoSmithKline v. Abbott Laboratories does not appear to be a remarkable case at first glance. The defendant, Abbott Laboratories, was accused by GlaxoSmithKline of illegally raising the price of Norvir, an AIDS drug, to drive out the competition. During jury selection, Abbott wished to kick out a possible juror, while Glaxo wanted to keep him on the basis that the juror “is or appears to be, could be, homosexual.” The juror’s sexual orientation was important, Glaxo’s attorney claimed, because gay men have an interest in AIDS medication. The juror was ultimately released because of his sexual orientation. Glaxo “won” the case and a $3.4 million damage award.

Both parties appealed. Glaxo felt that the damage award was too small, while Abbott wanted the verdict thrown out completely. A major point of contention on appeal is whether Abbott’s attorney made a mistake by claiming that sexual orientation was a valid reason to throw out a juror. The attorney could have given any number of other reasons for wanting the man off the jury, but he gave the most controversial reason.

State courts in California have long held that excluding homosexuals from juries based on their sexual orientation is unacceptable. Most state judges would accept that homosexuals have been historically persecuted because of their sexual preferences, just as African Americans have been discriminated against because of their race. On the other hand, sexual preference is not a topic that lawyers should pursue when interviewing possible jurors.

Federal courts in the Ninth Circuit, however, have not given a definite answer on the issue. Most legal experts will observe that forbidding sexual orientation discrimination will only be symbolic, since lawyers can give other (legal) reasons if they really want a homosexual to stay off a jury.

Although it is true that making sexual orientation discrimination illegal in jury selection would only be symbolic, symbolism counts for a lot in our political system. The Zimmerman case is an example of how our juries reflect on our society. The political fallout from that case lends credence to how a diverse jury can increase legitimacy in the jury’s verdict. By including homosexuality in the list of illegitimate reasons to dismiss a jury member, the law would possibly move a little closer to providing an ideal jury—a jury of our peers.

Juror Disregards Judge’s Instructions, Sentenced to More Jury Duty

The right to a jury trial is the foundation of the American legal system. Like all rights though, it forms an obligation on others to uphold that right. A defendant’s right to a jury trial requires twelve other individuals to listen to the defendant’s story impartially.  Impartiality is vital to the trial process, so important that jurors are instructed by the judge’s written instruction to refrain from discussing or reading about the case.

Obviously not paying attention to the judge’s instructions, in October 2012, Vishnu Singh was using his laptop to research a murder case online. The case was about Kenneth Jackson, who had raped and stabbed his victim, a mother of three, to death. Jackson’s case had already been delayed in 2011, when prosecutors failed to find jurors willing to impose the death penalty. Singh informed some of his fellow jurors that he was conducting online searches and one juror told Judge William Fuente. Funete dismissed Singh from the Tampa courtroom, although not before warning Singh that he would be back in court next year for a hearing of his own.

jury boxIn January 2013 at Singh’s hearing, Judge Fuente sentenced Singh to five days in jail. Singh could avoid the sentence by attending an alternative sentence. Singh’s other option was to endure the process of jury selection every week for the next three months. Singh opted for three more months of waiting in a jury room.

Alternative sentencing is not a new development in the law. The controversy in this incident is not Judge Fuentes’s decision to offer Singh an unusual punishment as an alternative to jail, but the fact the alternative is considered a duty that citizens are supposed to discharge. Citizens themselves might believe that being chosen for jury duty is punishment enough, but a judge should not encourage that misguided mental attitude. It is a citizen’s inability to treat jury duty other than a chore which causes many of the problems courts experience with selecting juries. Encouraging the mental root of the problem will do nothing to lessen the trouble.

Fuente would say that using jury duty as an alternative sentence serves to shame Singh and deter future jurors from making the same mistake. Shaming and deterrence are indeed the goals of alternative sentencing. Deterrence, scaring people from doing what Singh did, would be critical in convincing people to be good jurors. Making an example of the wrongdoer in front of the next few groups of possible wrongdoers is an effective strategy.

Singh’s punishment would be very good at scaring jurors straight. The punishment might be so good, it would not only scare the jurors straight while serving on the jury, future jurors might not want to serve on the jury at all. Who wants to go to jury duty knowing there’s a chance they could send the next several months in jury duty?

That last argument sounds like I’m making too much out of too little. I think it is important though that the public goes to jury duty with a feeling that they should be serving rather than with a feeling that they have to serve. The former means that the jury is interested and committed to the case while a jury which has to be brought to the jury box by threat of state power is a jury which might not discharge its duty in the manner which the Constitution requires.