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Jury Awards Are On the Rise in Illinois. What You Should Know About this Worrisome Trend

April 16, 2019

If you’ve missed the headlines, we’ll add it up for you – during March alone, Illinois juries awarded more than $35 million in damages in three high-profile medical professional liability (MPL) cases.

These high jury verdicts continue a recent trend of increasing indemnity payouts for medical liability claims. The cover story in the first quarter 2019 issue of the MPL Association’s Inside Medical Liability magazine documents these developments and chronicles several recent headline-grabbing individual verdicts.

What’s behind this?

According to the MPL Association, three trends are supercharging the “mega-verdict” landscape – and plaintiff’s attorneys are winning with them:
  •  ‘Rock star’ paydays that influence perceptions in court: Ordinary Americans are now conditioned to seeing ever-higher multimillion-dollar jackpot winners, lucrative sports contracts and soaring celebrity asset estimates in news and social media. “Not only are (juries) no longer offended by requests for multi-million dollar verdicts,” the article states, “they have no problem awarding that amount of money if they feel negligence has occurred.”
     
  •  Non-medical arguments that sway juries: They’re called “periphery accelerants” – minor, non-medical facts related to a physician’s practice that can be spun into reasonable doubt. The biggest fire-starters? Missing or altered medical records, or employee or money issues that bring negative focus to the administrative operations of a practice. “…Plaintiff’s attorneys have begun using these accelerants as the themes for their cases, to take the focus away from the medicine,” according to the article.
     
  • Inflated damage requests that go unchallenged: Juries evaluate awards based on dollar figures they hear in court. And too often, they’re hearing themonly from plaintiff’s attorneys. The article argues that defense counsel “need(s) to begin defending damages at the outset” with the right discovery, selection of experts and strategic analysis as to where value might be challenged. “Defense attorneys should focus as much on damages as they do on liability, right at the outset of a case,” the story says.

As always, ISMIE is keeping a close eye on these developments. For more than 40 years, we have provided an aggressive, team-led approach to the challenges our policyholders face every day – and we will keep you informed as this troubling litigation environment evolves.
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