The Recession and Accident Jury Verdicts

I have been interested for a while in how the recession is impacting jury verdicts. Back in June, I wrote about a few articles that drew differing conclusions and I pointed out that neither had any meaningful statistical evidence that supported their claims.

The Wisconsin Law Journal had an article on Monday suggesting that “the chances of getting a favorable jury verdict are as good as they have ever been.” They interviewed one accident lawyer who claims this is “especially true in soft tissue injury cases, which include sprains, strains and ‘whiplash.'”
While there certainly are good soft tissue verdicts, not many Maryland accident lawyers are racing to the courthouse steps to try these cases, particularly those that are not in Prince George’s County or Baltimore City, because they are almost invariably hard sells to a jury and because they typically end up in District Court where there is a bench trial. Juries, often understandably, are just not big fans of whiplash injuries.

I’d be really curious to know how many soft tissue injury jury trials the accident lawyers quoted in this article have tried since the recession. It would not be enough to draw meaningful conclusions as to what the trend has been since October, 2008.

I also think the article is a not so thinly veiled effort to dig for data to support their cause when there is none.

According to data from Florida-based Jury Verdict Research, which maintains a national database of personal injury verdicts and settlements, the median plaintiffs’ verdict in 2007 (the most recent year available) was $40,000, an increase of more than $5,000 from 2006. Head-injury verdicts, which include cases involving concussions and head lacerations, jumped from a national median of $12,775 in 2006 to $15,900 in 2007, the highest figure since 2003.

First, there was no meaningful recession talk in 2007 that would lead to a shift in jury outcomes. The idea of a recession did not grip the country until the financial meltdowns last October. Moreover, cherry picking out head injury verdicts seems disingenuous to me.

The article also provides the defense lawyer view that there has not been a meaningful difference in verdicts because of the recession, quoting two Wisconsin defense lawyers.

My best guess based on our law firm’s experience: juries are not awarding any more or any less because of the recession.

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