Heart Stories Vs. Legal Stories: Who Wins?


Apologies for not getting a Thursday post out to you last week.  My excuse is below . . . 

I experienced a new adventure last week, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

I was Juror #2 in a civil trial brought against a painting company by a Hispanic man who fell off a scaffolding while on a job site.

I can’t stop thinking about Juan, thinking about the “if onlys.”

If only someone had seen him fall.  If only his legal team had represented him better.  If only he spoke English so that he didn’t have to rely on translators in the courtroom.  If only the legal system allowed for the company to pay Juan’s medical bills without finding it negligent.

The system worked, all right

But a civil court doesn’t work that way.  Jurors serving a civil trial are asked to deliberate on the preponderance of evidence and side with the party that provides the greatest weight of evidence.  The burden of proof is the responsibility of the plaintiff’s attorneys while the defendant–in this case, the painting company–deflects attacks.

Juan’s attorneys had no solid evidence, making the burden of proof nearly impossible.  Oh how I wanted to hear evidence against the company that provides fancy paint and stain jobs to Dallas’ mansion owners.  I badly wanted to throw something–anything–to the older hourly laborer who now has a permanent disability.

But the legal system worked.  The evidence was more heavily weighted in favor of the painting company whose owner dodged a bullet.

Juan left the courtroom with nothing.  I left with the bitter knowledge that I followed instruction and appropriately carried out my charge, according to the preponderance of evidence.

My heart still hurts because you and I live in a country with a formidable legal system that is weighted in favor of those who can buy excellent counsel while the innocent and the ignorant suffer with inadequate representation.

In truth, the whole thing is one big story with a happy ending for one side and brutal disappointment for the other.  Why can’t there be a story where everybody wins?

Am I being a Pollyanna again?

Every story matters

While I enjoyed my jury service, I’m not eager to repeat it again anytime soon.  I don’t like the way my heart responded when the verdict didn’t side with the underdog.

I did learn a valuable life lesson, however.  Every person’s story matters and every person’s story deserves to be told.

While the civil court system relies only on fact–on what can be proven with evidence–our hearts rely on the emotions within the story.

While our legal system isn’t likely to change its governance, we can change the questions we ask.  A good place to begin would be to make sure that any company employing people for whom English is not their native language figures out a way to provide bilingual written communications, especially safety instructions.

I sure bet the stories would change.  And maybe hearts would rest easier.

Photo courtesy of southernfried

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