Jury Verdicts in 2007

I was reading an article in the Washington Post today titled “Juries Showing Change in Large Award Cases.” The author, quoting a Washington DC personal injury lawyer, states that “juries have changed in recent years and no longer award the extremely high ‘sympathy’ verdicts for which they were once known. Juries [the quoted personal injury lawyer said] have become influenced by other factors, including the idea that big judgments came from insurance premiums, which all of us pay.”

If you are a personal injury lawyer reading this, you are not surprised because everywhere we go we are hearing about changing juror attitudes. But there is one thing I neglected to mention about the article: it was written on Christmas Day in 1978, over 28 years ago.

I realize that, on some level at least, personal injury lawyers are losing the struggle for the hearts and minds of jurors who are increasingly predisposed to be skeptical of personal injury victims. On the other hand, this kind of talk has always reminded me of the good ole days in the 50s when life was simpler and people were kinder and gentler – the “Happy Days” era. While I’m sure there is a modicum of truth to that notion, there is a lot of fiction to it as well, as anyone black or openly gay can attest. And you can be assured that people in the 50s were talking about how simple and idyllic things were back in the good ole days.

The point is that some of this talk of changing juries is similar to the good ole days talk. This is a good thing for personal injury lawyers to keep in mind before walking in front of a jury because all of this doom and gloom about juror attitudes can be a self-fufilling prophecy.

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