Personal Injury Jury Verdicts and the Recession

Michigan Lawyers Weekly published an article titled “Populist juries side with plaintiffs.” (No web link available.)

This title got my attention because I have been speculating about the impact our economic troubles are having on jury verdicts. The thesis of the article appears to be that juries are more likely to side with plaintiffs in this economy, but are less likely to give large damage verdicts. Although, it quotes one lawyer saying he got a larger verdict than he asked for, which he attributed to the economy.

Unfortunately, the article is just anecdotes from plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyers who have recently received good verdicts. This is not exactly the target audience for a fair look at the issue. The lack of hard evidence is not the fault of Michigan Lawyers Weekly. The economy turned in October with the meltdown in the financial markets, and there is not a lot of data since then that has been collected and analyzed.

The Colorado Springs Business Journal says that at least one study shows that jury awards have declined 40% and personal injury verdicts are down 50%. But the article does not cite the time referenced in the study. It does not even tell us what the study is. It is useless to us.

The Michigan Lawyers Weekly article discussed another phenomenon I’m certain is true: clients are pressured by the difficult economy to settle cases (and seek settlement loans).  One this I can say without hesitation: settlement loans are awful and we should avoid them at all costs.  I’m not for outlawing these companies and every now and again you have a client that really has no choice.  But they are such an incredible ripoff.  I just hate to see people finally get compensation for their suffering only to give most of it to some finance company that charges stunning fees and interest rates.

It appears to me that the amount of pressure is actually inversely related to the size of the case. Personal injury victims with larger claims seem to me to feel less pressure from the economy to settle because their goal is not to get enough money to get back on track, but their goal is to seek an amount of money that will have a larger impact on their lives. But in smaller personal injury cases—mostly car accidents in our practice—clients seem quicker to pull the trigger on a settlement.

2019 Update

Looking back on it, I’m not as strong on this theory as I was when I wrote this article 10 years ago.  The reason is I don’t think the robust economy we have today is having an impact on the people that are being left out of the recovery.  No matter what your political bent, the gap between rich and poor is growing.  In this booming economy, too many of us as still living paycheck-to-paycheck.  If this is where you are, that the Dow is at 25,000 means little to you.

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