Jamie Collins, a personal injury paralegal in Indianapolis, Indiana, shares her experiences working on a wrongful death case and how she played a pivotal role at trial. (For an inside glimpse into personal injury practice, review this paralegal practice profile and this personal injury lawyer profile.)
My career highlight is winning a wrongful death trial last October. Our firm represented the plaintiff, “Shirley,” who was killed in an auto accident in the course of her employment.
Shirley was delivering newspapers in the early morning hours of December 21, 2004, when she was struck by a police officer head on. The officer was allegedly driving 94 miles per hour on his way to a Tylenol overdose call at his parents’ home which involved his brother. The call was overheard during a police meeting on a different scanner, so it wasn’t really their call, but the officer requested permission to respond and was given permission to take it.
Shirley was facing the wrong way in her lane of travel so that she could deliver newspapers out of her driver’s side window, as newspaper delivery people often do. We alleged that the officer crested a blind hill before striking Shirley with only his take down lights (spot lights) on and no emergency lights or siren activated. Police officers and other emergency vehicles are only allowed to drive at excessive speeds when their emergency lights and/or sirens are activated. That was the heart of our case.
The trial was bifurcated and we had to try the liability portion first (meaning, we couldn’t introduce any damages, nor could we discuss her injuries, suffering or the manner in which she died). We were definitely the underdog in this case. When we entered the courthouse, people could tell we were “the big city lawyers and paralegal” from out of town by the way we were dressed. It felt like we were in a scene from a movie. At several points during the trial, the judge got down off the bench to look at the blow ups and watch the video evidence we presented because the trial unfolded in such an interesting fashion.
When the officers testified, I would review my deposition binder for any inconsistencies in their responses and pass notes to my attorney. I had read every page of deposition testimony and knew the case inside and out. If the witnesses in any way deviated from their previous testimony, I would flip through the pages of my binder to find information that would help to make key points with that witness. As the jury began to notice the questions I passed my attorney, I began to flip through my binder and tear the notebook pages more loudly, as I slapped the questions down onto the desk in front of him with emphasis. The jury was hanging on every word in those moments. They couldn’t wait to hear the next question. It was exhilarating. It felt absolutely amazing to have the opportunity to play such a pivotal role in a major wrongful death trial.
Our case was on the front page of the local newspaper each day of trial and the jury ultimately delivered a verdict in favor of our client. Ironically, it was the same newspaper our client had delivered for more than 20 years prior to her death. It was a big win in a small town and one I had helped to secure. When the verdict was read, there wasn’t a dry eye at our table. Our client’s husband had waited six long years and gone through three appeals to finally gain closure for his wife’s death. It was the highest level of professional satisfaction I have ever known to date.For more information on paralegal practice, review these top 8 paralegal skills, this Paralegal Career Guide and The Role of the Paralegal in Civil Litigation.