Friday, August 28, 2009

Jury Verdicts In Product Liability Cases--And Why You Won't Hear Much About This Verdict In The Media

A jury in Texas recently decided that Yamaha was not liable for the death of a 13 year old child who died in a rollover accident while driving a "Rhino" all terrain vehicle. Yamaha stopped selling the Rhino in April, 2009. Fifty nine people have died while operating this vehicle (which looks like a souped up golf cart)and two thirds of accidents involving it have involved rollovers.

Nevertheless, this jury weighed the evidence and found that Yamaha was not negligent. It is impossible to determine what exactly the jury based its decision on, as we don't know what evidence the jury heard, what evidence was admitted or excluded from trial, etc. But the larger point is that "tort reformers" and The Chamber of Commerce are constantly arguing that juries can't be trusted and need to be "reigned in" since they are prone to sympathy for the victims' family and frequently return enormous verdicts against big corporations due to a "litigation lottery" mentality.

We personal injury attorneys who represent families in cases like this know that this argument is a an exaggeration at best and a lie at worst. The purpose of this disengenuous PR campaign is to convince legislators to pass arbitrary limits on lawsuit recoveries in order to take away the power of juries to decide these cases. Their modus operandi is this: wait for a jury anywhere to return a large verdict against a corporation, and then use the verdict as the poster child for what's wrong with our civil justice system, and why we need "tort reform."

I can't think of a more sympathetic situation than a 13 year old child who died while operating a recreational vehicle for fun. Yet, apparently this jury was not swayed by this.

You won't hear Corporate America or The Chamber squawking about this verdict because it disproves their "juries are too stupid to be trusted to decide these cases" theory. But I can guarantee you that if this jury returned a verdict for money damages in favor of the family, they'd be dusting off the old broken record about "runaway juries" and playing it again in the media.

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