Monday, June 11, 2012



There are annoying lawyer ads on television every waking moment. So, you may think there must be a mighty long line at the Shelby County Courthouse just to get a jury trial.

The most recent report from Shelby Circuit Court indicates quite the opposite.  It indicates a total of only thirteen jury trials were tried in the Summer/Fall 2011 Jury Term among the eight divisions.

The other myth is that juries are giving out money like water. “Jackpot justice” is what it is often called. Of those thirteen trials, seven were either “defense verdicts” or “mistrials.” That means that the injured plaintiffs got nothing.

In the remaining six that the Plaintiffs actually won, the figures are unlikely to impress you. One poor guy won his trial but got a zero verdict. Three others received just a few thousand each.  Only two were significant verdicts: $68,106.83 and $750,000.00.

To hear people’s talk of out of control juries, you would expect many millions of dollars to be thrown around like beads from so many Mardi Gras floats in the French Quarter.

The truth is that the really severe injuries that result from clear-cut liability generally get settled quietly.

The tough cases go to trial. The results indicate that.

Be aware that there is a real effort to take away your right to a jury trial or at least reduce any major award. Why? It is certainly not due to any jackpot justice. It is so that insurance companies can squeeze more premiums from policyholders while facing less exposure at court.

Jury awards, especially those for punitive damages, constitute the one thing that a company cannot budget for. None of these awards are reported to have included any punitive damages. Indeed, they are difficult to win under Tennessee law. They serve as an important deterrent against reckless corporate behavior.

Verdicts are why cars no longer explode on impact like Pintos did. They are why pool drains cannot turn little kids inside out like some used to. Juries have made our drugs safer, our cars more resilient and our healthcare among the best in the world.

In the end, if you are the victim of a reckless driver, a careless doctor or a profit-driven nursing home, you expect to be able to sue. But, if citizens do not protect this right, it may be going the way of the vinyl record. This may actually happen in our lifetime.

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