There seems to be a widely held belief that American juries are too charitable toward people injured by accidents, product defects and medical malpractice. This attitude is fueled by occasional news reports of apparently excessive verdicts in some personal injury cases.
Data reveal that 96 percent of all personal injury jury verdicts nationally fall within a range considered reasonable by statisticians. Of the remaining 4 percent, some are too low, and some are too high.
Our judicial system incorporated corrective measures to deal with irrationally high or low jury verdicts. Unfortunately, when a judge makes corrections or adjustments in particular cases, they rarely are publicized. Apparently, a jury out of control is more newsworthy than a judge in control.
News reports about excessive jury awards in personal injury cases appear to be having an impact on jury behavior. Juries are becoming more conservative.
Jury Verdict Research, a national court-watch group, studied more than 90,000 legal cases decided in 1992. Its findings reveal a trend toward greater skepticism by American juries.
In 1992, juries sided with accident injury victims in 52 percent of the lawsuits that went to trial. This figure was down from 61 percent in 1987.
Over the same period, those who claimed injuries from defective products saw their success rate with juries decline from 54 percent to 43 percent. The success rate against manufacturers of consumer products fell even more for those who made personal injury claims from 55 percent in 1987 to 39 percent in 1992.
Medical malpractice claimants experienced similar declines in jury acceptance rates. The Jury Verdict Research study revealed that successful lawsuits against doctors dropped from 42% in 1987 to 25% in 1992. Over the same period, personal injury and medical malpractice verdicts against hospitals declined from 59 percent to 50 percent.
Jurors are ordinary citizens. They are drawn from our ranks. They are our friends and neighbors. They are us.
Although juries occasionally make mistakes—high or low—they are, nevertheless, entitled to our respect and the benefit of every doubt. Perfection in any human endeavor is not possible.
We can take pride in the fact the vast majority of jury verdicts are reasonable and the few of them that are not can be corrected by our judicial system.