For the last three days, I served on a jury in a civil trial in San Francisco Superior Court. It was a personal injury case stemming from an auto accident on the Bay Bridge in 2002. The plaintiff sought cash for physical and mental suffering, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, and about six other things. I had some idea of how totally jacked California personal injury law is. After seeing the way that this case played out, I am shocked and depressed by it.The facts. There was no question that the defendant (a round-ish kid from outside Sacramento) rear-ended the plaintiff (an Asian lady from El Cerrito). The question was: Was there enough evidence of actual harm to award some kind of money? The plaintiff's car was unharmed by the collision. She drove home immediately afterward. An expert witness argued that the collision could not have been more than a slight bump. In my opinion, the plaintiff offered no evidence to support her argument. She claimed various types of harm: 18 months of back problems, inability to have intimate relations with her husband (ouch), general family dissolution. But her tearful testimony was the only evidence of her suffering. There was no testimony or deposition from her doctor, no medical records, no police report, no testimony from her husband or kids; moreover, she continued to work immediately after the accident and admitted that she missed no work — including business trips to China and Seattle — as a result.Our task. We had a total of four questions to answer; but if we ruled "no" on any of the first three, our work was done. Case closed. The first question: Was the defendant was negligent? If we agreed he was negligent, question two: Was the plaintiff harmed? If so, question three: Was the defendant a substantial factor in the harm? Finally, if he was: How much money should be awarded for the harm?1. Was the defendant negligent? Umm, yeah. The guy rear-ended her. Hard to say he wasn't. Still, you had to feel bad for him. He was working at a pizza place at the time of the accident, and you had to know that he was fearing some kind of huge verdict. Nevertheless, his testimony was unconvincing. A "reasonably careful" person would not rear-end a car in that situation, even if he was sneezing, as he claimed. About half the jury initially wanted to say that he was not negligent, but the rest of us had a hard time ruling that he wasn't. He wasn't paying attention. A reasonably careful person would have been paying attention. After 10 minutes of discussion, we came to a decision: 12 yes, 0 no.2. Was the plaintiff harmed? This is where it got testy. I personally believed that if we said "yes" to this, we were going to have to award damages. So I argued (at length) that she wasn't harmed, and at first 7 other jurors agreed. We only needed one more to turn to our side to win — in California, you only need 9 out of 12 jurors to agree on a point to come to a decision. Unfortunately, one of the characteristics of harm was "inconvenience." The minority argued — persuasively enough, as it turned out — that the fact that she had to stop on the Bay Bridge during crazy weekend traffic was enough to say that she was harmed. Eventually, they had the required 9, including three other young guys who I thought were going to be faithful allies (they were from the Mission, Upper Haight, and Potrero Hill). Interestingly, the other two who believed that she wasn't harmed were women: one was an older Asian lady (Sunset), and another was a young woman from the Marina. Final score: 9 yes, 3 no.3. Was the defendant a substantial cause of the harm? It was really hard to say "no" to this if you said "yes" to the above question because of inconvenience. I started to get really nervous that we were going down a path where we were going to award her some money because she got bumped on the Bay Bridge, and claimed to have incurred all sorts of hardship. Again: 9 yes, 3 no.Aside: It was pretty clear that the accident was traumatic to the plaintiff; she cried throughout the trial, and her rendition of the accident made it sound pretty scary. It happened over the weekend, so the traffic was crazy, and the defendant handled himself badly. BUT, she didn't file a suit until two years later, didn't keep receipts for medical treatment, didn't have any testimony from doctors or family members. Without any of this, it seemed insane, really, to say with any certainty that she was harmed. It's not like it's hard to produce this evidence. C'mon!4. How much is the plaintiff entitled to for her mental/physical suffering? At this point, the foreman used the whiteboard to write out each element of physical and mental suffering (loss of enjoyment of life, inconvenience, etc), laying out a framework where we would agree on a value for each thing. In California, juries are given no guidelines for determining the award; we're left to our own devices.The foreman said, "I'm just going to throw out a figure. $5000." Upper Haight guy said, "$3000." Another two women chimed in with $3000. Immediately, there were four people who wanted to award money for her unsupported claims. Luckily, Potrero Hill and Mission guys were even more passionate than me about this, and they immediately articulated an argument that I hadn't expected: that inconvenience on the Bay Bridge has a monetary value of ZERO dollars. The three Asian ladies immediately agreed, as did the Marina lady.The foreman kept proposing figures — "Okay, how about $2000?" — but Potrero Hill guy interjected: "Hey, we've got 8 people who believe that she shouldn't get anything. You're in the minority. You need to come to us." Eventually, we were arguing about whether or not to award $250. Finally, a little after 4pm, the foreman cracked: "Okay, fine. Zero dollars." And justice was served: 9 $0, 3 $250.But the depressing thing was how easy it was to assign monetary damages, how much the logic of the law seemed destined to lead to it. Upper Haight guy was brainwashed by it. Even though he could never articulate a pragmatic reason why she should get any money, he kept referring to the jury instructions and saying, "I'm just following these rules. She was inconvenienced, and now we have to assign a value to that." The foreman was sympathetic — he had family members who had been in a much worse position and got no money — which he acknowledged was not a valid legal reason, but it took him an hour before he abandoned this. As the verdict was read — negligent, harmed, substantial cause of harm — the defendant looked scared, and his attorney looked depressed. Then, the big fat $0 of damages, and everything changed. The plaintiff's attorney slumped, and the plaintiff began crying again. The defendant was relieved, and the judge actually looked relieved as well. Justice was served. Barely.