Posted by Bill Sandweg on 24 December 2018.
Perhaps you have received an e-mail from a friend with a list of outrageous jury verdicts. The lists come in many flavors and with many names. Some versions are called the “Stella Awards” in “honor” of the lady who was burned by hot coffee at a McDonald’s restaurant and received a substantial jury award. Each of the verdicts on these lists involves a large jury award against an innocent party and in favor of someone who was responsible for their own injury. No reasonable person can read one of these lists without asking how can a jury do this? How can any sane, responsible juror award money for this? The answer is that they can’t and that the stories are fake.
If you are not a lawyer, these jury verdict stories may not strike you as made up. If you are a lawyer at all familiar with trials and jury verdicts, you will immediately smell a rat and for good reason. Usually the lists give very little information about the parties and where and when the trial took place, so people who are suspicious have very little to work with in trying to see if the stories are true. And, of course, many people in our society are quick to believe any e-mail they are sent, especially if it confirms opinions they already hold. Not many people take the time to fact check what they have been sent before forwarding the message to all their friends.
Most of the time these lists don’t say who created them. A few of them give a fake law firm’s name and ask the recipient to join the firm’s crusade against frivolous lawsuits by forwarding the message to all their friends. Beware of any message that asks you to forward it to all your friends. Regardless of the subject, more often than not, these messages are false or misleading.
Even though the lists conceal their creators, the likely culprits are not hard to identify, at least in general. The obvious purpose of the lists is to poison the jury pool by leading people to believe that the courts are full of frivolous cases and that juries routinely give away too much money for no reason. Those who benefit from this type of jury attitude are folks like the business community, drug companies, doctors and hospitals, and insurance companies that have to pay judgments when a jury awards money. Certainly not all of these folks have a hand in creating these lists but someone on their side does and the jury attitudes these lists create or reinforce benefit them.
I suppose that in times like this it should not be surprising that someone will use the power of the internet to spread lies with the goal of subverting our jury system. It is still disappointing, however. If you get one of these lists, be skeptical. Don’t believe it or forward it without fact checking it first.