The Kansas City Star reported last month that the average plaintiffs’ verdicts in the Kansas City metro area last year averaged nearly $1.3 million, nearly double the 2006 average of $688,337.
Does this mean that Kansas City juries have become remarkably more liberal? No. Now is the time to dust off all of those “you can prove anything with statistics” clichés.
Average verdicts are always misleading because they involve highs that completely distort the average which is why most statistical analysis of jury verdicts uses the median verdict not the average jury verdicts.
The Kansas City had three big verdicts that make the average misleading: (1) Sprint’s $69.5 million verdict against Vonage Holdings in a patent dispute; (2) a $20 million award to a student injured in a diving accident; and a $17.3 million verdict against American Family Mutual Insurance Co. in a class-action lawsuit over the sale of aftermarket auto parts.
These verdicts themselves are misleading to the extent that insurance companies want to claim this is evidence of juries run amok. The patent case involved a big business dispute where were, as they often are, high. In the diving accident case, the jury found the plaintiff was 20% responsible for his own injuries reducing to $16 million. It is also worth nothing that the plaintiff is a quadriplegic and most of the damages will go towards the medical bills he will incur for the rest of his life. Accordingly, it was certainly not a runaway jury verdict. The verdict against American Family Insurance was tossed by the trial judge, who ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to prove their theory of damages.