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Vincent Leonard

Are You Smart Only Until You Serve as a Juror?

» Written by // November 24, 2010 //


What lawsuits consume the very most resources in our court system?

Lawsuits filed by injured people? Nope.

Lawsuits filed by corporations suing corporations? Yep! By far, excluding divorce, we tax payers pay out more to support the court system’s time in handling one corporation suing another than any other type of case.

So, it was with some interest that I read about the latest lawsuit news involving SAP AG and Oracle. SAP is a German company; a global leader in technology systems and solutions; with income of over 13 billion dollars. Oracle is also a tech leader in software and hardware with an income of over 15 billion dollars.

The battle between the two giants arose from allegations that SAP had stolen billions in intellectual property from Oracle. Apparently not until years of litigation and only finally at trial, SAP confessed they were guilty of stealing some of Oracle’s intellectual property, but argued that:

“SAP posited that (SAP)…actually wasn’t that good at stealing customers from Oracle, and that SAP should not pay money it made from 358 customers it gained with the stolen data.”

The jury disagreed with SAP AG and awarded $1.3 billion in favor of Oracle. I guess the jury felt SAP was “good at stealing customers” from Oracle.

So, years of attorneys’ fees; countless court time; and (3) weeks of trial for two corporate giants to resolve a dispute in which apparently one was guilty all along. Not a battle by an injured person against a mega-corporation; in which the hurt person is simply trying to recover for pieces of their lost life, livelihood, and permanent physical injuries.

This is actually where our judicial resources are going: corporate super powers fighting amongst themselves. Bottom line: our constitution quite wisely provides for disputes to be settled in this way.

Many who have led blessed lives are quick to want to cap damages awarded to injured people, but should we cap damages which mega-corps can recover? Do these poor, victimized corporate behemoths deserve our attention and protection? Wouldn’t capping the damages corporations can recover from each other conserve resources of our court system? Not fair? You think that corporations should be allowed access to our court system in order to fight the “good fight”?

Can we really trust “average Joe or Jill” jurors to be able to listen to evidence in these corporate fights and be smart enough to reach the “right” decision? Should we jurors be told what to do in court cases? All we citizens exercise one of the most important responsibilities of running this country: the responsibility for voting. Whether I ultimately do or do not agree with what the majority of voters decide, this is a job we all take on without significant government regulation or intervention, right?

When voters overwhelmingly deliver a win to a particular candidate, we call it a landslide, a clear message from the electorate. We may quietly argue about the wisdom of the majority, but we do not legislate away part of the votes; we do not move numbers of votes amongst the candidates in order to “level the playing field”.

Trust me; neither jurors nor voters need crayons and “stay in the lines” instruction to accomplish their jobs.  A 1.3 billion dollar verdict will do more to curb overzealous corporations than any government board of ex-big business lackeys. Truth be told its good old fashion economics; when the cost of malfeasance is greater that the gain by wrongdoing then, and only then, will you have a chance to sustain the equilibrium for proper behavior and to curb abusive power. Civil litigators in the private sector are the most efficient means at targeting bad seeds and at the least expense to tax payers.

So, when you think about “runaway juries”, think about the possibility that it has nothing to do with jurors not being smart enough to see the truth. What if, jurors are smart people, just like voters. What if had you been in a courtroom and actually heard the evidence supporting egregious conduct, that you, too would award $1.3 billion against a corporation.

Imagine you are the one who has been wronged or injured in some way. Imagine you have lost everything important to you or have suffered a loss of a piece of your life that you will never be able to get back. Imagine jurors hear your evidence. Imagine those smart jurors want to award you the full measure of your damages. Imagine the legislature has passed laws that limit the amount of damages you can recover; regardless of what the jury has decided.

Imagine you are told that justice in your case is what the legislature decided and not what was decided by your peers? Not fair? Think about that the next time someone talks about a “runaway verdict”. Think about: what if? What if it is me who is harmed?


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