More On Jury Awards

From the homepage of Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse:

Alabama is one of the most beautiful states in the nation. Alabama folks are good folks. But there is a problem. Alabama is one of the worst states in the nation for lawsuit abuse.

A recent poll by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranks Alabama 48th in the nation for civil justice. It has made the “Judicial Hellholes” list published by the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA.) In the mid-1990′s, Forbes magazine called Alabama “Tort Hell” due to the large number of frivolous lawsuits and the embarrassingly high-dollar punitive damage awards handed out in our broken civil justice system.

Last week, I posted a few of the findings contained in the most recent Alabama Jury Verdict Reporter. Here’s some more.

First, there just are not a lot of big money lawsuits in Alabama.

there were 16 verdicts rendered in 2006 in excess of one million dollars.

Think about that. Of all the lawsuits filed every day in every county in this state, we only had 16 million dollar verdicts? And that qualifies Alabama as “one of the worst states in the nation for lawsuit abuse?”
Second, those suits certainly look meritorious:

A class action in federal district court in Tuscaloosa was the largest verdict handed down in Alabama in 2006. The $19,092,003 verdict arose out of a case involving a class of dollar store employees who alleged that they were unlawfully categorized as managers so that they could be denied overtime pay.

In a Lee County case, the plaintiff suffered a facet fracture in a stop sign crash. A radiologist at the hospital was blamed for missing the fracture, and the undiagnosed injury left the plaintiff a permanent paraplegic. The jury awarded the plaintiff $6,000,000.

A man in Mobile County sought treatment at the emergency room for an attack of gout. The drug that the man was administered to treat his gout interacted adversely with his other medications and led ultimately to his death. A lawsuit filed as a result of his death resulted in a $4,000,000 verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

In Montgomery County, a jury awarded $3,684,000 in a case where one worker was killed and a second seriously injured in a scaffold collapse.

In a case tried in Macon County, a man was injured in a collision with a tractor-trailer. The driver of the tractor-trailer turned out to be blind in one eye and had a history of fainting, dizziness, and alcohol abuse. [????!!!!!????] The jury awarded the plaintiff $3,500,000. [That's all????!!!]

Sure, there may be issues with some of these cases, but none of them strike me as “frivolous” claims, or “embarrassingly” high awards. And these cases are in line with recent trends:

In analyzing million dollar verdicts from 2002 through 2006, the Reporter found that wrongful death cases accounted for 29.9 percent of those verdicts. Among the cases implicating personal injury, death represented 26 of 52 cases, or 50 percent of the sample. The Reporter concluded that there were only three injuries on the list that were arguably not severe and debilitating. These included an ankle injury, a disc injury with radiating pain, and a husband cuckolded by his wife’s psychiatrist.

Thus, 49 of 52, or 94.2 percent, implicated a serious injury. The Reporter stated that its findings tend to dispel the notion that Alabama juries award million dollar verdicts to plaintiffs with injuries that are not severe.

Other than severe injuries or death, the types of cases most frequently found on the million dollar verdict list from 2002 to 2006 were commercial fraud (10), insurance fraud (5), employment discrimination (3), employment retaliation (3), defamation (2), and various breaches of contract (4).

I’m not naive enough to deny that there are a bunch of sleazeballs out there getting rich off of other people’s suffering (“call Goldberg, 800-600-dadadada”), or that some people do indeed file ridiculous suits. But I think the system as it stands is more than adequate to weed out the bad suits long before they get to trial.

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4 Comments on “More On Jury Awards”

  1. Mark Says:

    I hate to be a cynic, but when you look at who’s complaining about damage awarde in lawsuits, a couple of old sayings come to mind. One is, it all depends on whose ox is being gored. Another that might be more appropriate for Alamama is “the hit dog hollers.” Of course big businesses and insurance companies want jury damage awards limited. All those lawsuits and punitive damages might make them reform their own business practices, and, as George W says, that’s hard!

  2. Kathy Says:

    Mark, you beat me to it. What sounds like an excessive award still may not be high enough to get a large corporation to find a permanent fix for the problem/situation that precipitated the suit in the first place. Limiting damages to a specific dollar amount completely discounts the varying size of the defendants, which is exactly what they want. A $250,000 award is chump change for Exxon.

  3. MCF Says:

    “Look meritorious”? Based on a single blurb?

  4. wheeler Says:

    “Look meritorious”

    yeah, probably a poor choice of words. what i meant was “nothing here makes me want to scream “foul” or run out and re-do the entire civil justice system.” in other words, none of these verdicts look like the typical urban legends relied upon by folks like AVALA.


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