Judges Alter 1 in 4 Jury Awards
“Tort reform" continues to be the most actively debated issue affecting our legal system.
Arguably, some juries award too much to injured accident victims, and certainly others award too little. Placing a monetary value on physical or emotional injury is an imprecise task. Mistakes are made in both directions. Inadequate awards, however, seem to be less newsworthy than excessive ones.
Some years ago, an arm of the California-based Rand Corporation issued a report on a two-year study of jury verdicts.
The study revealed that in one-fourth of all cases won by injured parties, the award was modified by a judge after the jury verdict. In most of these cases, the award was reduced.
The study also contains another important finding. In the cases surveyed, losing parties who caused an injury to another person ultimately paid an average of only 71 percent of the original jury verdict. In some of these cases, judges reduced jury awards. In others, the injured party settled for less than the jury verdict, often to avoid the further delay of an appeal.
Those who oppose placing caps on jury verdicts hail the Rand Corporation study as evidence that the present jury system does not need fixing. They say trial judges are exercising their discretion effectively, modifying inappropriate jury verdicts—both upward and downward.
This study makes an important contribution to our knowledge of the workings of the jury system in personal injury cases. It is to be hoped that organizations with the resources and skill to do such research will continue to examine the system, gather data, and report in an objective way we all can readily understand.
The institution of trial by jury should be modified only on the basis of complete and reliable information.