Damage Awards Decline Substantially in Tennessee Tort Cases

Tennessee jury verdicts were down substantially in 2010-11, according to data released by the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts. 

Total damages awarded  in tort cases in state court were only $32,051,326, down by a little over 60% from a year earlier, when the total damages awarded  was over $91,000,000.  These numbers include jury and non-jury cases.

The average verdict or judgment  was $168,691,  down over 600% from a year earlier, when the average verdict was over $400,000.  The average verdict includes only those trials in which the fact-finder returned an award of money damages.  It does not include defense or no-money awards. 

In addition, the "average" number calculated by the AOC is the mean, i.e. the quotient of the sum of all  verdicts and judgments  for the plaintiff divided by the number of verdicts.  This number can be greatly skewed by a large number of small or large verdicts.   A more helpful number would be the median figure i.e., the midpoint of all the verdicts arranged largest to smallest. 

A jury verdict ( or a damage award from a trial judge) only means something when viewed in context of the facts of the case.  A $30,000 verdict can be an outstanding result given the facts of the case.  A $1,000,000 verdict can be a poor result under the facts.

Likewise, we all know that some cases are tried for the sole reason of obtaining a large verdict that has no possibility of being collected but which can be tauted in promotional materials.  Verdicts in these cases may give us some indication about what a jury would do in similar cases, but my guess is that those cases would be defended a little differently if there was any real chance of collectability.  

Here are the statistics for the six largest counties (plaintiff awards only): 

Shelby :  42 awards with an average award of $81,887

Davidson :   36 awards with an average  award of $240,962

Knox:  22 awards with an average award of $259,185

Hamilton: 11 awards with an average award of $48,190

Montgomery: 10 awards with an average award of $90,402

Rutherford:   5 awards with an average award  of $73,098 

These six counties had 126 jury verdicts for the plaintiff in the year ending June 30, 2011.  There were only 145 jury verdicts for the plaintiff in entire state, which means that the other 93 counties had only 19 jury verdicts for the plaintiff. 

Once again, the phrase "jury verdict for the plaintiff" doesn’t mean a that the plaintiff "won" in any traditional sense of the word.  True, the plaintiff received a monetary recovery, but we would need more information to determine whether the verdict was a true victory.  What would tell us that?  The answers to these questions:  What was the last offer?  What was the last demand?  What additional monies were spent to try the case?  What non-monetary purpose was achieved or goal was advanced by a trial?