Shannon Ragland of the Tennessee Jury Verdict Reporter has graciously agreed to permit me to share some of the information he has gathered concerning jury trials in Tennessee.
It is fair to say that Shannon has the most comprehensive collection of jury verdict information in the state. Indeed, in my mind it exceeds that offered by the annual reports published by the Administrative Office of the Courts. Why do I say this? First, Shannon gets paid to collect data and report it accurately. Second, the clerks report data to the AOC, and not every clerk is going to apply the same criteria when he or she completes the report. Thus, there is increased likelihood that data will not be consistently reported and this, of course, impacts the results.
This multi-part series will discuss some of the data contained in Shannon’s 359-page report. You can buy the report yourself for $175.00. It is well worth the money. Click here to buy the report.
We begin with verdicts in the auto torts area. There were 130 jury verdicts in the auto negligence area in Tennessee, 93 of which were "won" by the plaintiff and 37 of which were won by the defense. Total damages awarded were $5.63 million, down 60% from a year earlier.
Jury trials in this area of law are dropping dramatically. IN 2005 there were 238 trials in auto negligence cases.
More interesting, however, is the distribution of the jury verdicts for the plaintiff. According to Shannon’s analysis, in the last 5 years the top 10% of the cases took almost 80% of the total money awarded and about 40% of the successful plaintiffs (243 of 586) took awards of $10,000 or less. The total awards to this group were $1,207,373 – an average of less than $3000 per case.
Shannon’s analysis: "If car wreck litigation is in fact a lottery in Tennessee, a 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."
Shannon goes on to breakdown verdicts by nine regions in the state for 2009. There is lots of interesting information in this data, the most shocking of which to me was that Hamilton County had only 3 auto negligence trials in 2009 with total damages awarded in the two successful cases of a mere $10,000.
Two last points. First, there were only seven verdicts over $100,000 in auto negligence cases in 2009. Seven. Unbelievable.
Second, I think Shannon would agree with me that the facts that the jury returned a verdict for 93 plaintiffs in auto negligence cases in 2009 does not truly mean that there were 93 "wins" by those plaintiffs. The statistics do not tell us how many plaintiffs recovered damages less than the amount of money offered before or during trial. ( A $45,000 verdict is not a win for a plaintiff who was offered $50,000.) Thus, it is reasonable to assume that there were plaintiffs in the "win" column who, for all intents and purposes, lost.
I will share some more of Shannon’s work product in a couple days. Once again, click here to buy the report.