Robert Habush is a retired Wisconsin plaintiffs lawyer and a friend I’ve known for years. His record of significant jury verdicts for injured people over the years created a national reputation for him. I thought I would share with you some random excerpts from a quadriplegic case he tried in Wisconsin in 1975 that resulted in a record verdict. Here are a few selections from his argument:
Now comes the time to calculate in very cold and impersonal ways what has been lost in human dignity; in human suffering. This is the time that you people will then draw upon your own personal experiences as you do in all facets of this case. What you determine here today, in this very significant case, will be a measure not just for yourself but a measure of how you, as a jury, calculate what the loss of health and loss of ability to function as a human being means.
Keep in mind we will be talking about separate funds. One fund to reimburse for past medical expenses, lost income to the present time and for the future medical needs. The general damage award is a separate fund from this. It is not to be confused or mixed up with future medical expenses; future lost earnings potential; past wage loss or past medical.
His wife has a claim for loss of consortium. It is a recognition, some time after being given the right of women to vote, that women have the same right to be compensated for their loss when their husband is catastrophically injured as does the man who was injured.
Ladies and gentlemen, people have asked for death, but no one has ever asked for pain.
It’s true that Larry was not a superstar or a track star or a famous football player. He was an average man but he could stand up straight, support his family and live a normal life. Now his everyday life is that it takes him over half an hour just to put on that elastic girdle type thing for his blood pressure. What does it mean for a man to have trouble dressing at age 29 or to have your wife put your clothes on for you or not to be able to tie your own shoes?
What does it mean to have to attach a tube to your bladder and be cleaned by your wife? What does it mean not to be able to have a normal bowel movement and how humiliating is it to have your wife clean up after your hygenic needs?
What does it mean to have to change positions every two hours for the rest of your life? What does it mean not to be able to sit up in a chair or to be able to stand up? What does it mean to see your lifeless legs jump up and down with spasms you can’t control?
We take so much for granted. What does it mean just to stand up and stretch? What does it mean to you to walk normally? To take pride in a job? Take a walk with your wife? Walk down the aisle in the future with your daughter? This man has lost all of these things that you and I just don’t even think about. He is a prisoner in that wheelchair for the rest of his life. His whole world will be looked at from his level at 4 feet off the ground.
Let’s climb into his soul for just a minute. He views the whole world sitting down. How he must want to be able to walk, run or just go to the bathroom normally. Instead he suffers with total dependency on his wife and other people. It’s difficult to think about the humiliation and embarrassment of the basic functions that we take for granted that now have to be done for him by his wife for other people.
What is this worth? You have this uncomfortable job of putting a dollar value on all of this. The money for loss of enjoyment of life, for the injury, for the loss of dignity and for the pain that he’s gone through as well as for the anguish he’s going to go through. What is fair and reasonable? The amount you find in your verdict for these damages is your measure as a community of the staggering loss to him as a human being. It has to consider the magnitude of his loss and the magnitude of his injury for the past and future. Not only what he’s gone through but what he’s going to have to go through for the rest of his life. You have a unique opportunity to set a standard of conduct and the value for what has happened to him.