Saturday, June 2, 2007

A sidewalk encounter or an omen?

TAMPA - Attorney Steve Yerrid walked outside the courthouse to kill some time.

It was midafternoon on May 25. A jury was threatening to deadlock after 17 hours of deliberation in his medical malpractice trial. His client, a quadruple amputee, might end up with nothing.

A man - dirty, distressed and disheveled - approached, breaking Yerrid's thoughts.

"I just got jumped, " the man said, unsteady on his feet. "Can somebody call the police?"

In the courtroom, Yerrid had argued a lot about the role of good Samaritans and when the law should protect them and when it should not.

On this sidewalk, definitions became clearer.

Yerrid asked courthouse security to call for medical help and police. He ushered the man to a concrete bench.

Kris Scheppe, 27 and partially blind, was born with a condition that left him with no peripheral vision. Minutes earlier, he said, after arriving in Tampa by train from Fort Myers, he had asked a man for directions.

The man beat Scheppe instead, taking his cane, cell phone, camera, clothes and cash.

Scheppe lost almost $200, mostly belonging to an organization for the blind that had named him treasurer.

Yerrid got a bag of ice for Scheppe's bloody eye. He held two fingers in front of Scheppe to test for a concussion. Scheppe saw four.

Police arrived. Yerrid had to get back to court. Before leaving, the attorney who has won millions from Big Tobacco and medical professionals reached into his billfold and pulled out two hundred-dollar bills.

"Here, " Yerrid said. "Now you don't have to worry about that."

Twenty minutes later, jurors sent word from the deliberation room. They had a verdict.

Thirty-million dollars.

Every verdict has a story, Yerrid said. But the timing of this one ...

"I can't say that anything that happened after that would have occurred without it, " he said.

"It made me stop. It stopped me."

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