Saturday, June 30, 2001 - Confused jurors are being cited in the push for a new trial for four Rocky Flats workers sickened by beryllium dust.
Indeed, some of the six jurors were so bewildered that, even as they exonerated Brush Wellman Inc. of conspiracy and liability for the workers' disease, they still believed the company would be responsible for paying 10 percent of damages to the workers.
In Colorado courts, however, plaintiffs' negligence must equal or exceed the defendants' in order to obtain damages.
If the jurors weren't positively certain on that point, it isn't their fault.
It is the responsibility of the court - the judge and attorneys on both sides - to provide jury instructions written with such clarity as to dispel any confusion and guide the jury smoothly through its process.
Instead, Jefferson County District Judge Frank Plaut now will be asked to set a new trial based on the conflicting verdict the jury handed down.
Jurors found that Brush Wellman, which supplied beryllium to Rocky Flats, wasn't liable for the workers' lung disease and didn't conspire with the federal government.
However, they deemed the company 9 percent responsible for the workers' potentially fatal chronic beryllium disease, and its defunct competitor, Berylco, was blamed for 1 percent. Both portions would have been paid by Brush Wellman, under the jurors' scenario.
We concede that trials concerning environmental health often can be confusing. Yet just two days after the conflicted beryllium verdict was reached, a federal jury managed to produce a $16.3 million verdict against a uranium-processing company accused of causing radiation poisoning and other ailments among people living near a mill outside Canon City.
The four Flats workers afflicted with lung disease probably do deserve a new trial. But justice won't be served for them or the jurors in the next trial unless clarity and precision are exercised in attorneys' arguments and the court's jury instructions.
Don't blame the jurors when the court is muddled.