Runaway juries or runaway urban myth?
Despite the constant headlines about frivolous lawsuits and ridiculously high awards, when the GAO came out with a report on lawsuit awards back in 2003, it received little fanfare even though it strongly contradicted media reports of excessive jury awards. The same results have been seen every year. Now it’s 2011 and we’re hoping a new report gets a bit more attention.
This time it’s a report from the Center for Justice and Democracy, a nonprofit consumer group. The Center uses data from the Department of Justice and other sources to point out that juries seldom award punitive damages in addition to compensatory awards. Further, when punitive damages are awarded, they tend to be fairly modest (a median of $64K in 2005).
Key findings from civil trial data in the nation’s 75 most populous counties include:
“Winning plaintiffs received punitive damages 6 percent of the time in 2001, and 5 percent of the time in 2005.
From 2001 to 2005, the percentage of successful medical malpractice plaintiffs awarded punitive damages dropped from 4.9 percent to 2.6 percent.
From 2001 to 2005, the share of winning plaintiffs awarded punitive damages in product liability trials dropped from 4.2 percent to 1.3 percent.”
Hardly an example of runaway juries. In fact, as author Emily Gottlieb says,
“The availability of punitive damages protects us all by holding wrongdoers accountable for egregious misconduct and deterring its future occurrence. Laws that restrict punitive awards place the public at serious risk, and lawmakers should not be misled by falsehoods spread by corporate special interests about this most valuable and important feature of our civil justice system.”
We all like to think we are independent thinkers, assessing the facts and evidence before us and drawing conclusions that make sense based on new information that comes in. If you, like us, have spent time observing through darkened windows while focus groups or mock juries deliberate (and eating way too many M&Ms) you know it isn’t true.
We hope you’ll read the complete report from the Center for Justice and Democracy here. And that you’ll forward the report to your friends and to opposing counsel. That you’ll blog about it. We need to spread the word. Don’t let history repeat itself. Spread this new report far and wide.
Gottlieb, E. (2011). What you need to know about punitive damages. Center for Justice and Democracy.