Media Skews Big “Pay Day” Verdicts

jury-2943953.jpgThe study is called Headline Blues and it comes from the nonprofit Center for Justice and Democracy (CJD) at New York Law School. The report analyzes the coverage plaintiff verdicts are given and the hype and hysteria that feed the myths of “frivolous lawsuits” and giant jury awards. The Orlando personal injury attorneys at Farah & Farah understand that the real story is quite different.

The first study, Reading Between the Headlines, done by CJD in 2001 was followed by the book, Distorting the Law, which looked at the media’s coverage of lawsuits and their aftermaths from 1980 to 1999. All of these studies find the same thing – that people are increasingly moving away from newspapers and are seeing the news online or in brief news headlines on commercial broadcasts. Instead of a thoughtful analysis of the verdict and the behavior of the at-fault party, we are reduced to news tidbits that sensationalize civil verdicts and offer incomplete coverage that omit relevant information or completely skew the story.

For example:

  • From May to July 2011, CJD found mainstream media reports generally covered awards in the average range of $4.6 million, while the Department of Justice said during the same time the average jury verdict was $24,000 or $21,000 before a judge.
  • In reality, plaintiffs only win tort cases 51.3% of the time, more than 56% of the time before a judge. Large awards are rarely upheld on appeal or by a judge.
  • Of 100 cases where the plaintiff was awarded $1 million or more in 1994, 32 were set aside or reversed and 33 were reduced. In one out of ten cases there were not enough assets or insurance coverage to pay the plaintiff anything.

Readers are rarely told there is a cap on verdicts, another distortion that fuels the public’s belief that lawyers and “runaway juries” are running up the costs of just about everything. It’s all part of the very effective tort reform movement which began with the very industries that didn’t want to be regulated such as asbestos and tobacco.