The tort reformers like to argue that our jury system is too generous. Out-of-control ordinary citizens side with plaintiffs and give out enormous sums of money in civil jury trials, right? Isn’t that what you have been hearing?
Here is the truth: According to the latest US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, juries have found in favor of the plaintiff only 49% of the time. 51% of the time, more than half the time, the plaintiff loses and gets nothing from the jury. And what do you think the average award was for those victorious plaintiffs, according to those same statistics? $100,000? $500,000? $1,000,000? NO! to all three! The average jury verdict was only $35,000. That is correct, $35,000! That is less than the average American makes in a work year. Plaintiffs received some kind of award in 62% of cases tried to a judge rather than a jury. 38% of victims lose their cases in front of a judge and get nothing. The average award from judges was $28,000.
I know what you are thinking; it isn’t the compensatory damages awards that cause "jackpot justice", it is the punitive damage awards. Those are the awards that judges and juries give out to punish outrageous conduct by the defendants. Those must be really high, right? Because, after all, we have an out-of-control jury system and civil justice system, don’t we? That’s what the tort reformers argue, right? Statistics show that punitive damages were awarded by juries in just over 3% of civil cases. 3%! Punitives were awarded in only 8% of cases tried to a judge rather than a jury.
But those punitive damage awards were unreasonably high, weren’t they? you ask. That’s where the millions are awarded, right? Juries are certainly out of control when it comes to awarding punitives, aren’t they?
The average punitive damages award given by U.S. juries is $27,000. The average punitive award issued by judges, those who know a little about justice and outrageous conduct, was $75,000. Does 3% or 8% sound like a high percentage of cases? Are the punitive damage awards outrageous or indicative of an out-of-control civil justice system? Of course not! Did you know that if, on a rare occasion, a jury does render an unreasonably high verdict, that the judge has discretion to reduce the award? It happens; in fact, it happened in the ‘hot coffee case’ that the tort reformers like to use as the poster child for tort reform in an out-of-control civil justice system. That verdict was reduced to an artificially low number, a fact that is not commonly known to the general public.
There may be a few of you who think that even these relatively small numbers are high. After you have suffered serious, disabling, injuries in an automobile accident, after you have been exposed to lead or asbestos, after you have fallen on black ice and suffered a back injury so serious that you need surgery, come back and tell me that these numbers are too high. What if you can never work again? What if you can work, but not at the job or profession that you made your highest income in? What if you have to hire someone to do all the things you can no longer do? What if you are in constant pain for the rest of your life? What if you lose a limb, or worse, lose the use of your entire body, below the waist or below the neck? Should your recovery in these circumstances be limited? Do these figures still sound high? What if I told you that the average case, if and when it settled, settled for policy limits or less? What if I told you that minimum policy liimits, in most states, are a paltry $20,000 and, in some states, they are as low as $10,000? What happens if the defendant is poor and has no insurance at all? Are these figures enough to compensate the permanently injured? The permanently disabled? Don’t think so? Then, please, tell me why are you so willing to sacrifice our right to simple justice on the alter of corporate, profits, lies and greed? You are not in ‘good hands’; you do not have a ‘good neighbor’; you will not get "fast, fair & friendly service". You are being deceived. Still think we have an out-of-control civil justice system? Think again!
Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life funding is needed during litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.