Thursday, December 02, 2004

My Bhopal Story

The thing about having your own blog is that you get to retell all the tired stories that your family and friends are tired of hearing...

About 15 years ago, I was summoned for jury duty. "Luck" was not on my side. All of the cases except one were expected to last one or two days. But I was chosen to be screened for an estimated 2-week medical malpractice case, and through some inexplicable momentary lapse of judgment, the defendant's attorneys actually allowed me onto the jury. (Even though I admitted that I was a union health and safety activist.)

The case: A women had been suffering from uterine bleeding. After a short examination, her gynecologist did a D&C (dilation and curetage). The problem was that she was pregnant, and he had failed to do a pregnancy test. The baby was born several months later with cerebral palsy. And now we were in court.

To make a long trial short, the woman had lousy legal representation and the OB had the best that considerable sums of money could buy. Her attorney's were miserable, totally failing to make the case that the child's illness could be blamed on the D&C.

Although we knew the doc had screwed up, being highly civilized and highly educated citizens, we didn't feel that we could find in favor of the woman -- at least in terms of causation. But then I had an idea. What about finding in favor of the mother for the pain and suffering she endured from the time she found out she was pregnant until she gave birth? The judge gave us the green light, and we were off and running. Or at least eleven of us were.

One juror, who happened to be of Indian origin, didn't want to go along. "People can make honest mistakes," she argued. "They shouldn't be punished for them."

We argued with her for over an hour, but it was getting late and tempers were getting short after two long, emotional weeks.

On the verge of giving up, I had a brainstorm. "Oh yeah," I asked her. "Well what about Bhopal? I suppose Union Carbide shouldn't be punished for their "innocent mistakes" either?"

Yeah, it was a bit underhanded. But it worked. Mom got the money. Justice was served, sort of.