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Attorney Van O'Steen

Juries Work Well in Personal Injury Cases

Van O'Steen

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Publicity about occasional large and seemingly irrational jury verdicts results in an unrealistic view of jurors.

The prevailing view seems to be that jurors share the blame with lawyers for rapidly rising insurance rates and increases in product and service costs. Some products and services, we are told, have disappeared from the marketplace because insurance is either unavailable or prohibitively expensive.

Putting aside the question of whether injury and other damage awards contribute substantially to increased insurance rates and higher prices of products and services, perhaps we should ask who jurors are and what motivates them.

Jurors are regular people. They are not alien beings placed among us to damage or destroy our economy. Jurors are you, your neighbors and friends and others like them. They are homemakers, truckers, secretaries, store clerks, doctors, small-business owners, retired people. They are the people who pay insurance premiums and who buy all the products and services available in the marketplace.

It seems odd that we refer to juries as "them," as if they were not like the rest of us.

So, what motivates a collection of well-meaning, ordinary people to agree on a large award for the plaintiff in a personal injury case?

The answer is evidence: the testimony, documents and objects presented at a trial.

Because both sides in a civil trial operate by the same rules, there is an equal opportunity for each side to provide evidence for the jury's consideration.

When ordinary people agree on a verdict after sitting through a trial, their collective decision is entitled to the benefit of every doubt.

Although it can be argued that juries occasionally award too much, it also can be argued that they sometimes award too little. Those close to the court system generally agree that conservative verdicts outnumber liberal ones.

If you are called upon to serve on a jury, take your duty seriously. Listen attentively at the trial, and when it concludes, exercise your best judgment in the deliberation process. If regular people continue to do that, the system will, on balance, work quite well.