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FMG Law Blog Line

Is it a Trend?

Posted on: May 12th, 2017

By: Jeremy W. Rogers

The general perception of Florida with regard to litigating cases to jury verdicts is that it is very unkind to defendants, particularly large corporations. I have spoken with numerous colleagues who believe that this reputation is completely justified, and it may be. Many also believe that there is a general trend toward much larger verdicts than have been experienced in the past. This perception is not only limited to general liability/personal injury cases, but extends to cases such as employment discrimination. The thinking goes that those who are part of the jury pool have grown increasingly angry with corporations, businesses, and “the establishment.” This is especially the case ever since the country began to experience its well-documented economic woes beginning in and around 2007-2008. Juries no longer want to make a plaintiff whole, but seek to punish the corporate wrongdoers. This fits in well with employment discrimination claims where much of the recoverable damages are somewhat formulaic (lost past wages, lost future wages), but may allow for awards of punitive damages and the ever-amorphous emotional damages. While the economy appears to have improved over the past few years, the perception of the disillusioned and angry juror has not changed much, if at all.

A couple of months ago, a jury in the Middle District of Florida decided a case based upon claims of disability and age discrimination. The jury rejected the age discrimination claim, but awarded the 74-year-old plaintiff $4.5 million in damages on the disability discrimination claim. Of that amount, less than $700,000 were wage damages, with the remaining $3.8 million allocated to emotional damages and punitive damages.

In reviewing this case, I questioned whether the general perception that increasing jury verdicts was actually a trend, or whether this type of case was the exception. A review of jury verdict reporters does provide some insight, although it would take a more in-depth review and statistical analysis to get a true, definitive answer. Nevertheless, a search of the Westlaw jury verdict reporter of Florida employment discrimination cases returned a total of 1,134 cases. A full 45% of those were defense verdicts. In cases where a jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff with a money damages award, 41% were less than $100,000. On the other side of the coin, 12% were cases involving a verdict of $1,000,000 or greater. Possibly most telling in terms of trends, however, is that just 6 of the 1,134 cases on the verdict reporter were post-2008 verdicts in excess of $1,000,000. That translates to a percentage of 0.005% of Florida employment discrimination cases reported.

So, one may ask, what conclusion can be drawn from these figures? Certainly, this somewhat cursory review of an electronic database verdict reporter would not stand up to scrutiny by a statistician or other similar professional. Also, there are far too many factors that go into a jury verdict. Nevertheless, these figures can provide one with at least an idea of whether exorbitant, punitive verdicts in employment discrimination cases may be considered more likely in current times as compared to the past.

For any questions, please contact Jeremy Rogers at [email protected]

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