Let’s face it, the pandemic is leaving an indelible mark on almost everything, so there is no reason to believe jury awards in injury and death cases will be any different. Jury and trial consulting firms have been conducting surveys since the inception of the pandemic and they have some theories on how the pandemic will affect the amount of jury awards, how it will impact medical malpractice cases and whether it will generally be better for the defendant or the injury victim.
First, we can tell you that the pandemic has caused an enormous backlog in jury trials. Social distancing is not very compatible with jury trials. In Tennessee, most trials have, at a minimum, 16 people in a room – one lawyer per party, a judge, a court reporter, 12 jurors. Then, at any given time, there could be several more: witnesses, bailiff, alternate jurors, paralegals, additional lawyers per parties, jury consultants, more court staff, etc. While some courts have conducted some trials virtually, it is the exception and not the rule. In the Middle Tennessee area, it generally takes one year to get a case to trial after it has been filed. The speed at which the case is set for trial depends on a number of factors including the county in which it was filed, the judge to which it was assigned, the complexity of the case, etc. The legal system in this country has been in pandemic-mode now for almost a year with very little trial activity. From all this, you can see how it is going to take considerable time for the court system to catch up.
When trials resume, many think medical malpractice cases are going to be even harder to win than they already are. In Tennessee, as part of so-called “tort reform”, the legislature has imposed a number of difficult hurdles for injury victims in medical malpractice cases. Our office receives roughly 2,000 calls each and every year solely for medical malpractice cases, and we generally only take a handful because the playing field is uneven as a result of the legislation. Jury consultants and trial consultants predict these cases will be even more difficult post-pandemic. Generally, most people view the country’s doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical professionals as heroes and rightfully so to be sure. But, a consequence of that is jurors may be predisposed to favor medical professionals in a medical malpractice case.
The pandemic’s affect on jury awards is a subject of some dispute and will boil down to individual juror’s experience during the pandemic. Some experts believe the disruption to everyday life caused by the pandemic will make it easier for jurors to understand and sympathize with the disruption to daily life caused by serious injuries. On the other hand, too many people have been severely affected by the pandemic without any financial compensation. Family members have been sickened or lost to the illness, jobs have evaporated, etc. Consequently, some experts these jurors may have less sympathy for an injury victim’s losses.
A few other theories have emerged from these surveys:
- In difficult times, authority figures and norms are given more deference. As a result, people are more likely to punish corporations who break the law, industry regulations, etc.
- Under stress, people tend to rely on intuition and emotion. Therefore, these types of narratives are more compelling and many experts believe jurors are more likely to make up their mind about a case much earlier in the trial.
Interesting theories to be sure. At the Law Offices of John Day, we are more than ready for our courtrooms to be open and operating at normal capacity again so we can determine if any of these theories are proving to be true in Middle Tennessee. Regardless, our award-winning attorneys are ready to shepherd our clients through these and any other jury trends. Give us a call if you need help with your case.