The Tennessee Jury Verdict Reporter Year in Review – 2010

Shannon Ragland from Louisville, KY has a company called Jury Verdict Publications.  Shannon gathers jury verdict data in several states and  publishes a monthly report for each state.  He also publishes an annual review for each state, which includes all of the jury verdicts for the prior year and analyzes the data that he has gathered.  The annual review also includes data from previous years.

Over the next few days I will be sharing some of the data in the Tennessee Jury Verdict Reporter Year in Review 2011.  You can order your own copy of the book from Shannon here.

What I like about Shannon’s work is that he actually analyzes the information he gathers, unlike those that prepare the annual report on civil filings issued by the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts.  Please note that I do not intend to criticize the AOC by comment – it gathers data from others (court clerks) and simply publishes it.  Shannon gathers data and studies it.  Big difference.

Here is a good example of what I just said.  Shannon reports that for the year ending with case reports in the December 2010 edition of the Tennessee Jury Verdict Reporter  there were 129 "Auto Negligence" jury trials in Tennessee.  Of these trials, the plaintiff won a jury verdict in 93 of the cases.  The total amount of damages awarded was $14,188,701, for a average verdict for the winning plaintiff of $152, 566.   Sounds high, right?  Well it is.   Shannon points out that there was one verdict of $7,234,787, an amount more than 50% of all the damages awarded in all cases.  If that one verdict was excluded, the average award for the plaintiff was $75,586.

He goes on to note that in the last six years there were only 22 verdicts of more than $499,000 in auto negligence cases, that those verdicts totaled more than $35 million, and that "8.9% of the plaintiffs (those with $100,000 or more [in verdicts]) took 81.3% of all car wreck awards."  Shannon then tells us about the small verdicts:

 On the flip side, while a small number of plaintiffs took the lion’s share, many more plaintiffs took much less. 281 plaintiffs that prevailed took $10,000 or less, their awards totaling just $1,431,945. Thus the converse of (3) above [where larger verdicts were discussed] is follows: 29.3% of the plaintiffs in these cases, those at the bottom, only took 2.3% of the awards. Looking side by side, the top 10% took nearly 80% of the awards. The bottom 30% took just 3%. If car wreck litigation is in fact a lottery in Tennessee, that notion sometimes being suggested by defense lawyers in jury trial or by others interested in civil jury verdict results, only a small number of plaintiffs are holding winning tickets.

Note that I indicated above that Shannon’s research reveals that plaintiffs obtained a judgment in 72.2% of auto negligence trials.   Does that mean that the plaintiff "won" those trials?  Of course not.  A "win" is verdict in excess of a pre-trial offer, and probably should be defined as recovery of an amount of money that exceeds the offer plus the cost of trying the case.   Thus, the "win" rate is almost certainly less than 72.1%.

One more point about  the $7 million-plus result.  It involved a claim against a drunk driver that left the plaintiff paraplegic.   The plaintiff settled with the bar serving the drunk driver and went to trial only against the driver.   The court directed a verdict on liability.  The Report does not indicate the amount of the settlement of the dram shop case, but if I had to guess that odds of collecting even 1% of that $7,000,000 verdict against the drunk driver are slim to none.

I will share some additional data in the next few days.