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Who is Really Being Greedy?
Some Insurance Companies have tried to deceive the public into thinking most injured people are trying to play the “litigation lottery”. People who believe this have probably never been seriously injured, or had a loved one seriously injured, and seen the effects it has on a family. Also, considering what an injured person has to suffer through, and the slim chances of even getting back to where one was before the injury, one would have to be insane to become seriously injured just to take a shot at this “lottery”. The numbers do not support the idea of “windfall” jury awards:
- In state tort trials, the median damages award has gone down 56 percent since 1992, from $64,000 to $28,000.
- There was no difference in median damages amounts awarded in bench and jury trials (meaning most juries are actually pretty smart contrary to what the Insurance Industry would have you believe).
- In contributory negligence states, damages were reduced in 14 percent of tort trials, by an average of 38 percent.
- One-third of premises cases resulted in a reduction of awards because of plaintiff negligence, by an average of around 42 percent.
(THOMAS J. COHEN, OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS, BUREAU OF JUSTICE STATISTICS, U.S. DEP’T OF JUSTICE, SELECTED FINDINGS: PUNITIVE DAMAGE AWARDS IN LARGE COUNTIES, 2001 (2005), available atwww.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/pdalc01.htm (last visited May 30, 2006).
The Insurance Lobby and the American Tort Reform Association would have us believe that “punitive damages” are handed out like free samples at the local grocery store. All the data indicates this claim is utterly false as well. In Florida, plaintiffs are only allowed to even ask for punitives after the Judge has held a special pre-trial hearing and decided the defendant’s conduct is so egregious and wanton that punitives are warranted to punish the defendant.
The unbiased data and scientific studies indicate how rare punitives truly are:
- In state courthouses, only 6 percent of successful tort plaintiffs received punitive damages.
- The median award was $25,000 for tort trials and $50,000 for all civil trials.
- Punitive damages were most likely to be awarded in slander/libel cases (58 percent of winners received them). Next were cases involving intentional torts (36 percent) and false arrest/imprisonment (26 percent).
(THOMAS J. COHEN, OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS, U.S. DEP’T OF JUSTICE, MEDICAL MALPRACTICE TRIALS AND VERDICTS IN LARGE COUNTIES, 2001 (2005), available at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/mmtvlc01.htm (last visited May 30, 2006).