Across the country jury verdicts in favor of injured individuals are at an all time low. Judges, lawyers, and injured victims struggle to understand why. Is it the economy? Is it because we’re at war? Do jurors mistrust the jury system? Is it a backlash of the perception that juries give out too much money? While it is most certainly a combination of factors, there is one in particular that stands out to us.
When we try cases, we always ask the prospective jurors if they volunteer their time anywhere. It used to be most people said yes and then gave examples of their volunteer work. In today’s climate people claim they don’t have time to volunteer anymore; they feel stressed and over-scheduled and as a result no longer involve themselves in their community or places of worship. If jurors choose to isolate themselves from society they in turn have no empathy for injured fellow community members. People are so absorbed with their own problems that they lose the capacity to empathize with other peoples’ problems. It’s like trying to pour more water in a bucket that’s already full; it just rolls over the edge. If jurors refuse to understand and digest the problems of the injured person, they will not compensate the injured person. This is an insidious cycle that is detrimental to our local economy let alone an injustice to the injured individual.
We closely monitor jury results from all of the local trial courts. We discuss results with other lawyers and judges. We see verdicts where people’s uncontested medical bills aren’t paid in full, they’re not being fully compensated for their lost wages or receive nothing for injuries, pain and inconvenience caused by an injury. It becomes insidious because if a person is not compensated for his or her medical bills, then the medical bills don’t get paid. If doctors and/or hospitals go unpaid, they may not hire that additional nurse. The additional nurse who doesn’t get a job may not be able to pay her rent. If she doesn’t pay her rent, the landlord may not hire the local contractor to make repairs and so on. There is a domino effect in the local economy when members of our local economy aren’t paid. Where does the money come from to pay injured people? It comes from large insurance companies. Obviously, insurance companies pay claims with premium dollars that we all pay. However, insurance companies are experiencing all time record profits because the value of cases has dropped significantly and they have effectively eliminated coverage for claims they used to have to cover. (See corresponding chart.)
Your premium, however, has not diminished to reflect all-time low verdicts, or the diluted coverage your policy now contains. Chances are if your premium has changed, it has gone up. This has occurred at the same time the property and casualty insurance industry (including auto and homeowners insurance) is spending more and more money in the election process to get legislators elected who craft legislation to further erode the rights we have. In addition to people not being fully compensated in the judicial system, there are many people who are finding they have no legal recourse and so their injuries are going completely uncompensated. So while premiums are at a record high, coverage that is designed to protect you, your family and friends, is lower and more unattainable than it has ever been in modern times.