Are Juries Out of Control?

11/17/2008

Recently, I was involved in a debate about whether juries are out of control and whether they should be allowed to decide cases. I clearly believe they should. Thomas Jefferson said it best "I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." A recent study by the Center for Justice and Democracy dispelled a number of myths. Some of the biggest truths revealed are: (1) average jury verdicts are decreasing, not increasing, (2) In 2007, Lawyers Weekly reported that "for the second year in a row, the nation's largest verdicts to individual plaintiffs have fallen dramatically." The publication reported that its "Top Ten Verdicts in 2006" were about one third of the average in the previous year, (3) juries are not anti-business or anti-doctor, in fact the opposite is true, (4) high jury awards are frequently reduced after verdict, (5) In 2001, the latest year studied by the U.S. Department of Justice, plaintiffs won before judges 50 percent of the time in 2001, while only winning 26.3 percent of cases before juries, dropping from 30.5 percent in 1992. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, patients "rarely won damages at trial, prevailing in only 21 percent of verdicts as compared with 61 percent of claims resolved out of court." Consider this the next time someone complains to you about all of these "runaway juries."

Hans Poppe