The Tale of Two Cases:
The New Jersey Law Journal is a weekly newspaper to which many, if not most, attorneys in New Jersey subscribe. One of the regular features is called, “Suits & Deals,” which sets forth jury verdicts and settlements reached in civil cases. In the October 16, 2017 issue, there were two (2) cases which seemed rather similar but had very dissimilar results. Since I did not participate in either of these cases, it is difficult for me to fill you in on the details. However, I can tell you what I read.
In the first case, a woman was injured in a rear end collision. Her attorney claimed that as a result of being rear ended by Defendant’s SUV, the woman had suffered a serious spinal injury resulting in a very complicated spine surgery known as a “three-level fusion”. Apparently, the fusion did not go well and required a second surgery known as a revision. She also had tears to the ligaments in her left shoulder and knee.
In a non-binding arbitration, the Plaintiff was awarded $1.71 million. However, the Defendant’s attorney rejected the arbitrator’s award and the case went to trial. At trial, the Defendant admitted the accident was his fault but claimed that the Plaintiff’s injuries were entirely pre-existing. The jury agreed with the defense attorney and awarded the Plaintiff $0. I can only imagine how devastating this verdict must have been to the Plaintiff.
In the second case, a man fell in an icy parking lot injuring his back, left shoulder, left ankle, and both wrists. The Plaintiff in this case had a two-level fusion on his spine, an additional surgery on his shoulder, and epidural pain killing injections into his low back. The parties in the second case opted to go to mediation prior to trial and the parties agreed to settle the case for $475,000.
These two separate cases in which both Plaintiffs had multiple surgeries and severe injuries resulted in one Plaintiff getting $0 and the other Plaintiff getting $475,000. I can only imagine that the Plaintiff who received $0 had stars in her eyes when she was awarded $1.71 million in non-binding arbitration. I am stunned given the set of facts in the first case that the Plaintiff’s attorney could not reach a high six-figure settlement with the Defendant.
I suspect that the attorney for the Plaintiff in the second case was more experienced than the attorney in the first case. Experienced attorneys understand how trials can be completely unpredictable. The attorney in the second case also understood that jurors today are very skeptical of personal injury cases and do not like awarding Plaintiff’s large sums of money. Burned into the brains of jurors is the story of the woman who got $5 million for spilling hot McDonald’s coffee in her lap. We know that jurors typically want to right this perceived wrong by turning away legitimately injured Plaintiff’s from the Courthouse door.
Any attorney who does not actively engage in settlement negotiations and put as much effort into resolving a case prior to trial as he would at trial is doing his client a disservice as demonstrated by the cases above.
If you have a personal injury case, make sure your attorney is experienced. Make sure your attorney has the Certified Civil Trial Attorney designation conferred upon him/her by the Supreme Court of New Jersey. This designation means the attorney has demonstrated experience, proficiency and competence in trying civil cases in front of juries. It also means he/she has passed a rigorous test administered by the New Jersey Supreme Court. It is a designation held by only about 2% of the attorneys in New Jersey. While there are no guarantees in the outcome of any case, having an experienced attorney with the right credentials means you will get sound advise and hopefully avoid the fate of the woman who was rear ended by the SUV and received $0 for her injuries.