Masks, big money and running away: Movie conspiracy or post-COVID jury trial?

The post-pandemic era has resulted in some of the most important jury verdicts ever seen. For example, this month an Iowa jury awarded $97.4 million to a child and his family in a medical malpractice birth injury case. In Washington state, $185 million has been awarded to three teachers who were exposed to long-term chemicals at a local school. In Houston, a jury has awarded more than $352 million to the family of a former United Airlines employee who was paralyzed when a van driver hit him from behind on an airport tarmac. A Florida jury has returned a $412 million verdict against a trucking company for a non-fatal accident. In Titus County, Texas, a jury has returned a $730 million verdict in the death of a 73-year-old woman involved in an accident with truck transport equipment.

This post-pandemic verdict inflation is of concern to many different industries. In particular, large corporations, trucking companies and pharmaceutical industries have felt the effects of these verdicts. This recent trend could be the result of many different factors, such as social media – i.e. social inflation due to legal advertisements promising big settlements or observing big verdicts being awarded to others – the COVID-19 pandemic, a generational shift as millennials take over juries, or simply desensitization to the magnitude of these awards.

In today’s climate, it only takes the click of a button to create large-scale news about corporate wrongdoing or a workplace accident. It is easier than ever to promise vast settlements to a large majority of people or to create an outcry over perceived injustice. With the backlog of cases put on hold during the pandemic, the internet is saturated with multiple cases involving big companies and big dollars.

Even with the pandemic in the background, citizens still tend to worry about their own financial situation. There is an overreliance on emotions which can lead to increased damages post-COVID, seeing jurors sympathize and empathize with those who have been wronged.

Some believe that millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) are driving these changes. Millennials tend to be more collaborative when it comes to jury decisions, and they tend to be passionate about things like environmental issues and wage disparities. Millennials have different life goals and experiences than previous generations. For example, many have no interest in working 9 to 5 for large corporations until retirement. Additionally, millennials place a higher value on corporate social responsibility than older generations and may feel more empowered to hold companies accountable when faced with perceived corporate misconduct.

Others are of the view that the average juror simply does not grasp the true value assigned. This could be due to the constant barrage of high amounts in the media, like hearing that Elon Musk has a net worth of $204,000,000,000 or that Congress passed a spending bill of $1,500,000,000,000. A vivid example that we could all learn from is the difference between a million and a billion seconds: a million seconds is 12 days, while a billion seconds is 32 days. years. Watching a mock jury quickly and without much debate go from $100,000 to $100 million is certainly reminiscent of this concept.

Whatever the cause, companies should be wary of this influx of so-called out-of-control verdicts; this not only increases their potential exposure to litigation, but can also drive up liability insurance premiums.

Andrea G. Henderson