Thursday, June 15, 2006

My Day(s) In Court

Sorry for not posting the last few days, but I was in court. I was called as an expert witness in a personal injury lawsuit. For those of you who are not familiar with how this works, when an individual has an injury that causes them to be unable to work (and there's someone they can sue), there are typically several areas where their award could potentially come from (that is, if they prevail in court). They are:
  1. Lost income or wages: the difference between the earnings they were expected to make but for the injury and the earnings they are expected to make following the injury.
  2. Lost retirment and fringe benefits: this is essentially the same as #1, but replace "earnings" with "fringe or retirement benefits")
  3. Lost household services: if the plaintiff has reduced capacity to perform the day-to-day activities such as cooking, cleaning, running errands, etc... because of the injury, they hve suffered an economic loss. This is based on similar reasoning to the arguments often heard in the media that "to replace all the services rendered by astay at home spouse would cost ___ (my wife shows me these pieces often).
  4. Medical care expenses: the plaintiff may have increased medical expenses for many years following the injury.
  5. Pain and suffering: Enough said.
  6. Punitive Damages: These are awarded not so much for the benefit of the plaintiff as they are to punish the offending party.
An economist is often called to calculate the "economic losses" attributable to #1, #2, #3, and #4. The procedure used is pretty similar in concept to the way securities like stocks and bonds are valued: First calculate the future dollar amount (i.,e. the wages, fringe benefits, etc... in each year untill their retirement age (or projected death) and then discount these figures back to a present value at the appropriate interest (discount) rate.

In any event, while I've done this calculation (typically for plaintiff's attorneys) in about a dozen cases, this was the first time one of my cases has gone to court. It was pretty interesting. I flew to Florida Tuesday morning (yes, to Florida at the tail end of a tropical storm), and was supposed to testify first thing in the afternoon.

So I waited in the waiting area outside the courtroom (doing various tasks, like editing a paper, working on class notes, etc...until I was called. Unfortunately, they didn't get to me that day (court ended at 5:00), and I had to stay over another day. Not a big deal, because I had a former doctorla student (and current coauthor) who lived in the area. So, I stayed there and played with his 8-month old son and 4 year old pug dog (the child was much cuter, but they both produced an incredible amount of slobber).

After all that, my testimony (I wen toff first thing Wednesday morning) lasted only a bit over an hour . It was an interesting experience, to say the least. After the plaintiff's attorney went through his paces and led me through my report for the jury (I was working for the plaintiff's side), the defense attorney proceeded to do everything he could to cast doubt on the validity of my analysis. Luckily, I grew up in a smart-assed Italian immigrant family where good natured (and not so good-natured) insults were a part of daily life, so I'm harder to rattle than most. And anyway, I was paid well for being abused.

Let's just say that I'm glad I only do a bit of this. Having my professional abilities slammed on a regular basis could lead to a serious increase in my wine consumption like a certain law professor we know.

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