Runaway Juries? Overinflated verdicts? Not according to the numbers. How the reality affects the practice of law
Thanks to stories sensationalized by the media, as well as clever marketing by parties interested in limiting an injured person’s access to the courts, many people have a negative view of plaintiffs and medical malpractice/wrongful death lawsuits. Ask a random person on the street what he thinks about the subject and you are likely to hear the following: “Plaintiffs are looking to ‘hit the lottery’ when they file a lawsuit, and juries routinely award tens of millions of dollars to these lucky individuals.”
The unspoken sentiment is that these plaintiffs – who may or may not really be injured in the first place – bring the lawsuit because they know they will get an unjustifiably large award at the end. But let’s look at what’s really happening in Ohio by examining the recent verdicts for wrongful death cases.
There were 68 reported wrongful death verdicts between 2008 and 2012. Not all of those deaths were the result of medical malpractice. However, looking at those cases as a whole, there were only 19 verdicts in the plaintiff’s favor, as compared to 49 defense verdicts. The rate of success is just as small when focusing on only cases where an individual died due to medical malpractice – 41 defense verdicts as compared to 11 verdicts in the plaintiff’s favor. Those numbers clearly debunk the myth that plaintiffs are winning trials left and right.
Well, maybe all those cases in which the plaintiffs lost were just bad cases – a skeptical person may ask. What about the verdict amount themselves? Surely the juries that reach a verdict in a plaintiff’s favor are awarding huge sums of money to the family of the deceased?? Again, that’s not the reality.
In the cases where an individual died due to malpractice, the lowest verdict was $40,000 and the highest was $6.5 million, with the average verdict being closer to the low range than the high. Two of the cases tried by Leeseberg & Valentine were two of the highest wrongful death verdicts in Ohio during that time period: $6.5 million in Southard v. Whetstone Care Center (Franklin Co.) and $2 million in Legge v. Leess(Union Co.).
So, what has Leeseberg & Valentine learned from looking at the above data? First and foremost, careful case selection and regular re-evaluation of a case are critical. With juries tending to favor physicians and hospitals, factors such as the strengths and weaknesses of the case, the quality of the clients, and the impact (economic and emotional) on the surviving family members are just some of the things that this firm considers.
The takeaway lesson for the random person on the street is this: Malpractice/wrongful death cases are far from guaranteed victories, even with the best of facts and evidence. But, an invaluable tool in predicting whether plaintiffs will prevail is whether the lawyers representing them are willing to try cases… and have the experience and history of success in doing so. Only then can plaintiffs begin to successfully fight the tide of prejudices against them.
We hope that Leeseberg & Valentine will have the opportunity to assist you or your clients in the pursuit of justice.