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Death, Injury Cases Not Won by Plaintiffs Seldom Get Reported

Van O'Steen

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This is another story of a jury reaching an apparently irrational verdict in a death and injury case. Stories suggesting aberrant jury behavior are reported regularly in the national press.

Although those who sit on juries are ordinary people, often our collective attitude about them suggests something quite different. This attitude is shaped in large part by reports of seemingly excessive awards in injury cases. Ordinary does not fit the Leanna Woods case either, but for a very different reason.

Leanna Woods was assigned to clean out a storage tank at her employer's manufacturing facility. While she was in the tank, a spark ignited a 2,000-degree fire. Woods could not escape the fire.

Woods slowly burned to death as would-be rescuers watched helplessly. It took 90 minutes for her to die. Only her face was left unburned, because it was covered by a clear respirator mask.   Because of the mask, she was able to watch herself burn to death.

Evidence revealed that before Woods entered the tank, a safety inspector had tested it for combustible gases using a device made for this purpose. No combustible vapors were found. Following the fire, the testing machine was examined. It was determined that wires in the device were crossed.  Because of this, the machine had tested the air outside the tank rather than inside.

A mediator who examined all the evidence found that the manufacturer of the testing device was responsible for the fire.  He recommended that the manufacturer pay damages to the Woods family.

The manufacturer refused to pay and requested a jury trial. At trial, the jury returned a defense verdict. Woods’ family received nothing.

What makes this story unique is that you are hearing about it. Defense verdicts in death and injury cases are rarely reported.  Excessive awards grab all the headlines. Real-life stories about low jury awards or no awards at all are more commonplace than verdicts that appear to be unreasonably high. Low jury verdicts, however, make for boring news. 

In any event, you can be sure that the popular view of charitable juries showering plaintiffs with large awards for injuries or deaths is not shared by the Woods family.
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