Georgia Jury Delivers $280 Million Verdict after 45 Minute Deliberation in Trucking Case

Carriers Need to Get in Disruptive Mode

The trend of eye-popping jury verdicts in Georgia continued recently. Last week, a Muscogee County jury returned a $280 million verdict against a trucking company whose driver crossed the center line and killed the plaintiff’s decedent. The trucker claimed he was trying to avoid a dog, but no other witness saw a dog. This verdict comes after recent jury awards of $70 million and $43 million in criminal acts on premises cases, and a $27 million death case verdict.

In the Muscogee County case, against Schnitzer Southeast, it took a mere 45 minutes of deliberation for the jury to award $150 million for the value of life of the 58-year-old plaintiff who was a school cafeteria worker, $30 million for pain/suffering, and $100 million for punitive damages. As to the punitive damages, the trucker had a clean driving record and had just returned from a four-day vacation, yet the plaintiff argued to the jury he was fatigued and should not have been driving. An aggravating factor was that three others died in the car — each of those claims settled.

Many firms will tell you that what sets them apart is that “they try cases.” Meanwhile, insurance companies and large corporations increasingly are getting harpooned by juries in Georgia and other states. Is it time for a different approach – a disruptive approach? Yes! At the very least, the insurance company “Trial Round Table” team needs to re-frame the conventional trial evaluation, from emphasizing law and facts to applying the same standard juries are applying, which is clearly not tethered to any rationality.

Change the Paradigm of Evaluation & Think Disruptively

The new analysis dictates it is for the DEFENDANT to prove it “could not have done anything to prevent the incident.” If the defendant can prove this with admissible evidence, it may have a prayer. The other part of this strategy is hiring lawyers who are GREAT negotiators and dealmakers.

In just the past 90 days, Cruser Mitchell lawyers on four occasions have saved 10-25% off of policy limits on $1,000,000-plus policies in cases where a time limit demand had been made and there was a legitimate excess exposure — but the Cruser Mitchell attorney had the skill set to get the plaintiff’s lawyer to back away from the time limit demand and compromise the case for less than the policy limits. (Stay tuned, these will be the subject of future Disruptive Lawyer stories and a webinar.)

Bottom line: It is time to change the paradigm of thinking and develop strategies to better assess the chances for a defense verdict, and if that is unlikely, to develop a serious mitigation strategy to avoid extraordinarily high verdicts. This requires hiring a lawyer who is a great negotiator and dealmaker. All lawyers are not created equal. Think DISRUPTIVELY!