by Howard Stephenson
“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion.”
A Utah jury in federal court last month found James Bottarini not guilty on all federal charges alleging he pushed his wife to her death in Zion National Park and lied about it to collect $1.25 million in insurance and business investments. Mrs. Bottarini’s death occurred while the New Jersey couple was vacationing in Utah five years ago. One week after returning the not-guilty verdicts on various federal charges, one juror admitted the acquittal was a result of a misunderstanding rather than a sense of Bottarini’s innocence.
“We obviously as a jury did not understand the instructions clearly,” juror Steven Paul Crump said, as reported by the Deseret News. “And ironically, and I guess even sadly enough, the only thing that we did unanimously agree upon was the fact that we couldn’t have a hung jury.”
Unfortunately, the jury’s assumptions about their options were wrong.
Crump explained that there were only two at first who voted to acquit Bottarini. Later two more joined them. The four were able during ten hours of deliberations to convince the remaining jurors to return the not-guilty verdicts.
Based on their reading of the lengthy jury instructions, Crump said the group assumed that if they could not come up with a unanimous verdict of guilt, they had to acquit. He said he left the courthouse with an “empty feeling” knowing the jurors had not thoroughly discussed their opinions of the case and come to a final conclusion. He said “It was almost just like a surrender.”
He said two ‘obstinate’ jurors adamantly refused to discuss the idea that Bottarini could be guilty, Consequently, with discussions stalled, the jury misinterpreted the lengthy jury instructions and eventually unanimously voted to acquit.
What’s at Stake
We live in a nation that assures “liberty and justice for all”. But Americans often fail to realize that a government “of the people, for the people, and by the people,” requires eternal vigilance from the people, not just in the voting booth as I have written about previously in this column, but also in the jury box.
At its worst, an absence of a vigilant citizenry can result in setting guilty men free and placing innocent men in chains. But one of the most common results is what the Heartland Institute calls, “Lawsuit Abuse”. In the organization’s publication Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly, examples of lawsuit abuse are rampant, especially against American businesses, who are perceived to have deep pockets. Here are a few of them. I swear I’m not making these up.
Equal Access to Strippers
A man who uses a wheelchair has sued a Florida strip club because an area where private lap dances are performed is up a flight of stairs and inaccessible to him. The suit also contends the club, the Wildside Adult Sports Cabaret in West Palm Beach, violated the Americans With Disabilities Act because the plaintiff could not enjoy a good view of the strippers from his wheelchair. A spokesman for the club said it has excellent accommodations for patrons in wheelchairs, who he adds are among the club’s best customers. From the July 18 New York Times
Which Part of “Experimental” Didn’t You Understand?
The widow of a Pennsylvania man whose experimental artificial heart implant made national headlines barely a year ago has sued the maker of the device, the hospital where it was implanted, and the patient advocate who helped her husband decide to have the surgery. The suit alleges, in essence, that he didn’t know what he was getting into when he agreed to the surgery and that he and his wife were led to believe it would save his life, which it didn’t. A Philadelphia hospital that provided surgeons for the operation but was not named in the suit said in a statement, “In these days when physicians are being driven out of their practices by this type of lawsuit, organizations like ours will find it difficult to participate in providing cutting-edge care to critically ill patients…” From The Philadelphia Inquirer
What If Every Kid Had a Father Like This?
Canada’s justice system is very similar to the United States. A Canadian father filed a $300,000 lawsuit against the New Brunswick provincial amateur hockey league when his 16-year-old son failed to win the league’s most valuable player award. The father claims the boy has suffered severe psychological damage and demands the MVP trophy be taken away from the boy who won it and given to his son. He also wants the league’s “playmaker” award, which was also awarded to a different boy, and a guaranteed spot for his son on the New Brunswick Canada Winter Games roster. From the Toronto Globe and Mail
Something in Wyoming’s Water
Recently, a Wyoming Supreme Court ruling pinned the blame on driver #2 of a three-car accident that killed two people while exonerating the owner of a meandering cow that caused the accident. Well, the Wyoming Justices have done it again. This time the court ruled an employee who attempted to commit suicide by shooting himself in the stomach because he was depressed over a work-related injury was entitled to collect workman’s compensation for the botched suicide. From Brierley v. State of Wyoming as reported in Overlawyered.com
Interfering with the Right to Steal
Two Los Angeles residents have filed a class-action suit against five music companies on behalf of all California residents who unwittingly purchased CDs that are copy-protected and therefore cannot be duplicated. Copy-protected discs are the latest effort by the music industry to prevent the unlawful duplication of their products. Claiming the CDs are “defective products” because they interfere with customers’ legal right to transfer music, the suit asks for unspecified damages and an injunction that would block sales of the discs or require better warning labels. From the August issue of Corporate Legal Times
Fast Food Meanies
The fast-food industry has been charged with being the cause of our national obesity. On July 24 a 270-pound, 5-foot-10-inch maintenance worker from the Bronx filed a class action lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court against four fast-food chains. The plaintiff — who has diabetes and has had two heart attacks — claims the chains were negligent in selling food high in fat, salt, sugar, and cholesterol without warning consumers there is a link between eating such foods and obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, elevated cholesterol levels, cancer, and other health problems. John Banzhaf, an anti-tobacco advocate, will serve as an advisor to the plaintiff. From ABC-TV News
Maybe He Should Have Sued Himself for Incompetence
A Philadelphia construction worker settled with his employer for $950,000 after he slipped on ice at a job site and broke his ankle. His assignment at the time of the accident was to spread rock salt on the ice to prevent workers from slipping and injuring themselves. From the National Law Journal
Bowler Strikes Gold, Facts Still Slippery
An elderly Pennsylvania woman who fell while bowling and broke her hip was awarded nearly $480,000 in a jury trial. She alleged that on her approach to the foul line she slipped on an oily substance the bowling alley had failed to clean up properly. The alley pointed out in its defense that the woman had put a powdery substance on the bottom of her shoes to help her slide even better. From the National Law Journal