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February 25, 2005

The American Jury: a non-sentient organism?

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal:

Margaret Morse, a longtime member of the Legion of Mary at Christ King Parish in Wauwatosa, was driving when she caused the accident that left Hjalmer Heikkinen of West Allis a quadriplegic. Morse's insurance had a $50,000 limit, so the church and the archdiocese were pulled into the lawsuit.

The case turned on how closely the Legion of Mary and the parish were intertwined, since Morse had been delivering a statue for the Legion of Mary when the wreck happened.

The jury verdict that said the Archdiocese of Milwaukee should pay $17 million to the 84-year-old victim of a car wreck.

"The notion of $15 million in pain and suffering to a person who's nearing the end of life needs to be balanced against who's paying for that," [Philip K.] Howard [New York-based chairman of Common Good] said. "In effect, they're making this elderly gentleman's family rich at the expense of everyone in the parish. Is that a fair result? Doesn't sound like it to me."

A reliance on community outreach is the hallmark of virtually every religious congregation, but both Howard and Marquette University law professor John Kircher said the size and nature of the verdict against the archdiocese might make other churches rethink the situation.

"Obviously, if this verdict stands up, there are going to be a lot of religious organizations, not only the Roman Catholic Church but others that rely on volunteers, that are going to be taking a second look at their exposure," Kircher said.

This is really more the result of the “Lottery” mentality so many people have. We are becoming a nation of obsessive gamblers. Each one of those jury members was drooling over the idea of they themselves having the opportunity to get filthy rich at the expense of some faceless entity with deep pockets.

Jury forewoman Julia L. Kliest of Cudahy explained this week that all the evidence spelled out that the Legion of Mary did parish work, with the stated approval of the priest.

"We felt that it was impossible to distinguish what was being done on behalf of the parish from what was done on behalf of the Legion of Mary. We felt that was too intertwined," she said.

Kliest said the dollar award was based on the cost of care and Heikkinen's projected life expectancy of four to seven years. She said the pain and suffering questions were "hard to quantify," but that based on all his surgeries and the life-changing nature of quadriplegia, "we felt we reached a fair and reasonable number for that."

The $17 million verdict included $10 million for Heikkinen's past pain and suffering and $5 million for future pain.

In other words...CHA-CHING!!

According to its official Web site, the Legion of Mary is a worldwide organization of Catholic laypeople whose members "become instruments of the Holy Spirit through a balanced program of prayer and service." Taking statues of Mary to people and praying with them are among the group's regular services.

Christ King's chapter, Prachthauser noted, was never asked to show the parish the proof of insurance that it requires of all outside groups seeking to use facilities. And the parish's insurance papers specifically say any volunteer doing service on behalf of the church is covered by its policy.

And when one of those jury members has to suffer because they need assistance, and the organizations that would help them -- can't because they can't afford the liability of volunteers, they'll be whining about how uncaring people are, and blaming it on someone else.

Posted by Jack Lewis at February 25, 2005 09:05 AM

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