It’s been a little under two and a half years since my best friend was killed by a Traffic Ordinance Officer with delusions of grandeur. On February 28th, 2003 I wrote an entry about the lawsuit Bill’s family filed against the City of Dearborn just eight days after the accident. Their attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, who’s best known for defending Jack “Dr. Death” Kevorkian, announced they were asking for $250 million in damages at the time. A number that would obviously never come to pass. After two years of legal wrangling— where there was talk of possible out-of-court settlements and the other assorted things that happen to drag things out—the case went to a jury trial this past July 18th and concluded on July 28th. Depending on which news account you read the final award was between $22.5 and $25 million dollars. $10 million for Bill’s “conscious pain and suffering” and $12.53 million in compensatory damages.
It’s taken me a few days to get this entry together; in part because I’ve started it over at least four times now. It’s not that it’s too hard to talk about Bill’s death these days, but because every time I read the comments of City of Dearborn’s attorney, C.F. “Chip” Boyle, about the award it ends up pissing me off and the entry degenerates into one long rant.
Testimony indicated Owen lost consciousness about 90 seconds after the crash, Boyle said. In awarding $10 million for pain and suffering, he said, “this jury believed each second of his conscious life was worth $111,000. … It’s simply unprecedented.
“We are extremely confident the Michigan Court of Appeals will not sustain this excessive verdict.”
What an asshole. Tell you what, “Chip,” you bring Bill back and you can keep the $25 million. I don’t think there’s anyone among Bill’s friends and family who would disagree with me on that statement. If nothing else, the final award is a mere 10% of the quarter of a billion dollars that was originally asked for when the lawsuit was filed. I admit I’m no expert on what the typical jury award for a case like this tends to be or what the final amount actually ends up being after all the appeals play out, but this doesn’t seem too unreasonable of an award considering some of the headline making lawsuits we’ve all heard about in the past that has resulted in truly ridiculous judgments. It’s not even so much the fact that the amount will probably be reduced during the appeals process that upsets me as much as it’s “Chip’s” comment about each second of Bill’s conscious life during the very short and very excruciating period he was alive immediately after having his ribcage crushed by a police cruiser. Had I been there to hear him make that comment I would have given him a very hearty “fuck you” with the appropriate hand gesture as an added bonus.
Bill wasn’t just a best friend of 23 years, he was as close to me as a brother and losing him left a deep wound that’ll never completely heal. Knowing how bad it pains me I can imagine what it must be like for his mother and his actual brothers and sisters. My primary concern is that they are taken care of in a reasonable fashion so that Bill’s death at least has some good come out of it. No one wants to bankrupt the City of Dearborn, but we do want the family to get a reasonable compensation for their loss. A loss which is, really, priceless in many ways.
After all, what price do you pay for the life of a son?