As I (and many, many others) reported last week, Tomas Delgado sued the family of a teenage boy he killed in a traffic accident in 2004, on the grounds that the boy and his bicycle had negligently damaged the front of Delgado’s Audi. Due apparently in large part to the public outcry, Delgado dropped the case this morning.
The prior report suggested that the boy had at least contributed to the accident by riding his bike at night with no reflective gear. And Delgado was not charged with any criminal wrongdoing, despite the fact that he was speeding on a rural highway. The traffic report stated that Delgado was traveling at 70 mph in a 55 mph zone, though an expert hired by the boy’s family estimated Delgado’s speed at 107 mph. (It was even faster in metric units, but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.) Still, the public seemed to feel that Delgado was lucky to have escaped jail, and that to sue the dead boy’s family for the cost of the damaged car was just a bit over the line.
I infer this public feeling from the fact, reported today, that "hundreds of people descended on [the] courthouse" in Spain where a hearing on the case was to be held, and "broke into applause" when they learned Delgado was dismissing the case. Now, I firmly believe that cases should be decided on their merits and not by public reaction. But I also firmly believe that if the citizens who are likely to be in your jury pool have stormed the courthouse before you even get there, it might be time to dismiss or at least think about a change of venue. Just as a practical matter.
Delgado himself, wisely, did not show up, having sent his attorney to be torn apart by the mob instead. (Attorneys do represent their clients, but just FYI, at least at my firm we charge time-and-a-half for being torn apart by mobs.) Delgado’s attorney told the court that his client felt that the bad publicity about the case amounted to a "public lynching," but that isn’t true. The public lynching would have amounted to a public lynching. The bad publicity was just a sign of a bad case.
The boy’s father said he was content with the dismissal, but also said he would pursue criminal charges, suggesting he was not content with the dismissal. A local prosecutor said that authorities would be revisiting the case in the near future.