Friday, July 17, 2009

Bad Karma - DWI

I was sent to see a 34 year old man in his trailer. Let's call him Joe.

Joe's trailer was parked beside a pre-fab house. I saw an old man and woman, both with long white hair, peer at me through the dirty front window of the house as I walked past it, towards Joe's trailer. I gave the couple a wave. The old man returned a toothless grin. The old woman's blank expression didn't change.

I passed the house and stepped into the side yard where the trailer was. A pit bull with a giant head and wild eyes appeared from nowhere in the unfenced backyard. He barked and lunged at me, then was stopped by a chain which flung him back by the neck in the unfenced yard.

It was one of those instant adrenalin rush moments that are part of the private investigator's job description. All senses remained on high alert when I knocked on the trailer door and Joe opened it.

On paper, Joe's case appeared a no-brainer to both myself and the attorney who assigned it.

Joe was in an old Honda 4 door, when he was hit by a new BMW that crossed the center line and hit Joe's vehicle head on.

Joe's car didn't have airbags. He sustained multiple injuries: concussion, cracked sternum, torn rotator cuff and a broken ankle. Plus abrasions, contusions, rips and tears in various ligaments.

The man in the new BMW that hit Joe was wearing a suit and tie when he was arrested at the scene for DWI and taken away in a squad car. Joe was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Both cars were totalled and towed.

Joe's car was not insured. The BMW was.

My job was to meet and greet Joe, then investigate Joe's story and persona... to assess whether the personal injury attorney investing time and money in his case... could win if it went to trial.

I shook Joe's hand. He was 34 years old, decent looking, unshaven, rough around the edges.
It was a hot day, he was wearing a t-shirt with a Harley Logo on it. I observed the inside of his arms were speckled with faded track marks.

The interview started as they all do. He had a copy of the police report. The Defendant was cited on the police report and had insurance. The insurance company had been calling and Joe didn't want to talk to them. He wanted his own attorney to deal with the insurance company.

One part of my job is to evaluate a potential client, to see if his story and his presence are credible. I asked about pre-existing injuries, prior accidents. I asked about the track marks on his arms.

Joe said he used to be a heroin user, he stopped a month ago. Now he does methadone at the community clinic.

I looked from his arms to his eyes and asked him if there was anything else he wanted to tell me.
Any secrets confidences, priors?

He asked what I meant.

You know, I said, Any criminal charges? Any dead bodies buried in your backyard the attorney needs to know about?

Almost always, that question evokes a laugh of innocence. Occasionally, it strikes the raw nerve of guilt. In this case, it was the latter.

Well, Joe said, I did kill my sister and paralyze my brother in law.

I asked how it happened.
Jow said it was a drunk driving accident. He was driving. It was all his fault.

Ain't it ironic, Joe said, as lit up his cigarette and took a deep drag.

He said he was partying all day, then went to hang out with his younger sister and her husband at their new house. At some point before sundown, they ran out of booze. Joe said he'd drive them all to the the gas station about 3 miles up the rural road for some more beer and cigarettes. Joe said his sister and brother in law insisted on coming with him.

Joe said he was drunker than a skunk, nearly triple the legal blood alcohol limit, when he took a curve the wrong way and slammed the little car into the massive trunk of huge tree. The impact was to the right side of the car. His sister was killed instantly, her husband in the passenger seat behind his sister had to be cut from the car. Her husband's legs were both shattered. His spinal column was crushed. Doctors said he would never walk again.

Joe said the Medical Examiner discovered his sister was pregnant at the autopsy. Joe didn't know that, she didn't tell anyone before the accident. The baby died when Joe's sister died.

didn't have auto insurance on that car either.

Joe ended up in Wallla Walla penitentiary for 10 years.
I just got out one month ago, Joe told me.

Clearly the laws of karma were in effect.
Joe was a drunk driver who killed his own sister, paralyzed her husband, did time. And within one month of his release from prison, got hit by a drunk driver.

I thought the situation wasn't a good fit for the attorney. I didn't know what a jury would think if Joe refused a settlement offer and wanted to go trial. I thought Joe's past will always come back to haunt him and his attorney.

I told Joe the same thing I tell a potential client who I think is not in the attorney's best interests to represent. I told him I'd call him later if I have more questions. Otherwise, the law firm will get back to him when they make a final decision.

I got into my Jeep and exited the driveway.
As I turned the corner, I was surrounded by police.

They approached my car. I displayed my state P.I. license out the open driver's window and Identified myself verbally. One officer took the license, studied it, then asked me what my business was in that house. I said I was investigating a drunk driving accident for an attorney.

Another officer asked me if I knew the guy I was talking to in the trailer had killed his sister and paralyzed her husband. I said, Yes, I know that now. Didn't have a clue until the guy told me.

Then I asked the officers why they stopped and surrounded my car.

They said that the house was a well known crack house which runs a car theft ring. Allegedly, the leader of that ring drove a silver Jeep. The same color Jeep I drove. They thought I was doing illegal business at the residence. After more chatter about their surveillance on the property, the police gave me back my license and a couple of their business cards. We parted ways amiably.

I decided the victim didn't have the two things personal injury attorneys need most in their clients A.K.A. Plaintiffs: credibility; and what we call "jury presence" or appeal.

I called the attorney who hired me and told him about the track marks, pit bull, the deadly family dynamics and the cop stop. The attorney said it was the right decision to walk away from the case. I told the attorney I wanted hazard pay. He laughed, thought I was kidding.

Indeed, the law firm did step away from the case. I'm sure some other attorney took it on. However, the quality of a law firm is reflected by the quality of their clients. And this potential client was not of the higher quality variety.

1 comment:

  1. Good one!

    Nothing like a childhood full of your mother doing things like this . . .

    Or the time when Heather and I were home alone and got collect calls from the prison. I think I locked every single door and window after that.