As the drumbeat for tort reform sounds louder - almost by the day - one of the pillars of the argument lies in "runaway jury awards." And while I certainly agree that there are instances where it seems - at least at first blush - that the judicial system has failed to produce a rational result in a tort case, I also believe that this particular issue in the overall debate has been terribly overblown, and is, to a large extent, not grounded in fact.

There are several reasons for this, but in my mind, here are two of the most important ones:

  1. The amount of the jury's award is often reduced by the court. This "little" fact almost never makes the news. And the reason should be relatively obvious: it doesn't make for good copy. On the other hand, a jury's supposed eye-whopping verdict certainly does.
  2. When the verdict is extremely large, the plaintiff rarely, if ever, actually recovers the amount that he is awarded. Again, the reason for this should be fairly obvious as well: insurance. Very often, the collectible part of a judgment will be limited to the limits of the defendant's insurance policy. Stated differently, if you get a $15,000,000 judgment, but the defendant has a limited policy and no collectible assets, how much is that judgment actually worth?

So, in the interest of promoting an open and honest debate on the subject of tort reform, a good place to start would be candor regarding the true significance (or the lack thereof) of jury awards.
Jonathan Cooper
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Non-Compete, Trade Secret and School Negligence Lawyer
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