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Judge’s Hapless Show and Tell w/ Jury in Bus Accident Case Derails Trial

The Rhode Island Supreme Court in a Bus Accident Injury case, YI GU v. RHODE ISLAND PUBLIC TRANSIT AUTH., vacated a decision of the RI Superior Court which was in favor of  the defendant RIPTA. The Top Court remanded the case back to the Superior Court for a new trial on the merits.

The remand was as a result of an non transcribed, ill fated, botched and prejudicial jury viewing and experimentation which was mid-trial. The RI Top Court chided the trial justice for a “series of errors that pervaded the view.”  The RI Supreme Court determined that the mistakes were “reversible error” Id.  The botched experiment involved the defendants employees performing a demonstration with a van! Id. ( Say it aint so?)

Read the decision here:  decision

This  REVERSAL was a  REAL no brainer for the Highest Court in Rhode Island!

In March of 2005, a RIPTA bus driver hit a pedestrian who was crossing the street at the infamous “East Side Bus Tunnel” Entrance in Providence, Rhode Island. The injured victim testified at the trial “that she began to cross the street after she pressed the signal override button and after she waited for the “walk” signal; she added that she was “ultra careful” to remain in the crosswalk when traversing the intersection.”Id.

At the Jury Trial, the Plaintiff asserted that she never saw the bus barreling towards her and that she was careful to look before crossing the road. Plaintiff recounted that when midway across the street “she felt something was pushing me from behind on my left” The Plaintiff was knocked down and “her right ankle was trapped under the bus’s tire.” Plaintiff had many surgeries as a result of the mishap and suffered through “extensive” physical therapy. Id.

The trial was your garden variety negligence cause of action until an ill-fated jury show and tell with prejudicial experiments threw the case into a tailspin. Prior to closing statement, the Rhode Island Personal injury Attorneys, judges and Jurors walked a couple of blocks to view the scene of the Bus accident. Id.

One curious juror requested to view the scene of the accident. “In response to another juror’s question, the trial justice told the jurors that the view was intended to “give you context;  however, the trial justice did not instruct the jurors that the view was not evidence, nor did she explain at that point that they could not consider the view as evidence during their deliberations.” Id.

The Jury viewing of the scene was reminiscent of a ghastly middle school Science field trip with jurors ban tying around the  East Side of Providence street and “were allowed to cross the street, walk about the intersection unescorted, and operate the walk signal buttons” The trial judge and  bus accident attorneys were present  during this show and tell but perhaps not during all of the experiments. To add insult to injury: “None of the discussions or events that occurred during the view were transcribed or otherwise reflected in the record.” Id.

At least one particularly inquisitive juror “communicated a desire to see how the traffic light functioned, particularly in conjunction with a trip bar located at the end of the bus.” Id.  To make matter worse, “.. during the view, some of the jurors had noticed that the traffic light for the vehicles exiting the bus tunnel never changed from red to green.” Id.

Turning this ill planned and ill organized viewing into a real sh-t show, jurors had questioned why the tunnel light never turned green. They learned—possibly through the trial justice’s questioning of a RIPTA employee— that the light changed only when a mechanism characterized as a trip bar, located at the bus tunnel’s exit, is activated. It appears that, because RIPTA had suspended the movement of its buses through the tunnel during the view, the trip bar never activated. Several jurors attempted to activate the bar themselves by standing on it. However, their weight proved insufficient to trigger the mechanism, and so— apparently unbeknownst to plaintiff’s counsel—a RIPTA vehicle was brought to the tunnel in order for a demonstration to occur.” Id.

And it didn’t end there! “A demonstration of the trip bar ensued—seemingly at the behest of the trial justice—involving a RIPTA van, driven by a RIPTA employee, that was moved to the bus tunnel exit, thereby activating the trip bar. The demonstration revealed how the trip bar controls the traffic lights; it showed that when the bar is triggered by a vehicle exiting the tunnel, the traffic light at the tunnel exit turns green, permitting a right turn, and the pedestrian signal correspondingly changes to “don’t walk.” When the trial resumed two days later, during her final instructions to the jury, the trial justice instructed the jury that “[t]he view itself isn’t evidence.” Id.

“Subsequently, plaintiff asked the trial justice to reconsider her ruling. Yi Gu challenged the legitimacy of the view evidence, asserting that it constituted error for the trial justice to allow the trip bar demonstration and to communicate ex parte with jurors and the RIPTA employee who facilitated the demonstration. The plaintiff further contended that the demonstration was prejudicial because it involved a van and not a bus, and because it allowed RIPTA an unfair opportunity to interact with the jury through its employee who performed the demonstration. Significantly, plaintiff asserted that only upon hearing the trial justice’s remarks during the hearing on plaintiff’s new-trial motion did counsel learn that a demonstration had been conducted during the view.” Id.

Rhode Island Supreme Court Decision:

“Furthermore, we are of the opinion that the manner in which the view unfolded constituted reversible error. The record suggests that the demonstration occurred during an off-the-record event in which there was no assurance that all counsel, or even all of the jurors, were present, were apprised of what was transpiring, and were able to see the demonstration” Id.

“Additionally, although in her final instructions the trial justice charged the jurors that a view does not constitute evidence, she neglected to give that instruction before the jury embarked on the view. ” Id.

“The trial justice’s later instruction that “[t]he view itself isn’t evidence” cannot negate the series of errors that pervaded the view. We are of the opinion that the proper prophylaxes meant to safeguard the integrity of the view were absent in this case to the extent that a new trial is required. . The functioning of the traffic lights and whether Yi Gu had a “walk” signal are issues that go to the heart of this case and are questions for the jury that should be determined based on admissible evidence produced in the courtroom” Id.

If you are Injured in a Rhode Island Pedestrian Accident or RI Bus Crash please consult with a Providence Personal Injury Attorney. A Rhode Island bus accident attorney who is also a RI personal injury lawyer will help you get the compensation you deserve.  A RI bus accident lawyer who is also a Rhode Island personal injury attorney will have experience litigating bus accidents in RI.

http://www.all-about-car-accidents.com/resources/car-accident-claims/bus-accident-lawsuits.htm

http://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/2013/chesterfield_nj/Abstract_Chesterfield_NJ.pdf

Legal Notice per Rules of Professional Responsibility: The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all lawyers and attorneys in the general practice of law, but does not license or certify any lawyer / attorney as an expert or specialist in any field of practice. While this firm maintains joint responsibility, most cases of this type are referred to other attorneys for principle responsibility.

 

 

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