This important question is at the top of every client’s list.  News  of multi-million dollar verdicts offer little or no explanation of how the jury was able to come up with huge amounts.  People watching or reading get the impression that juries are out of control, and that plaintiffs are getting rich on flimsy cases.  People think their insurance premiums are skyrocketing based on ridiculous juries and their greedy trial lawyers, or lazy judges.  There is a legal system and Courts all over the land know there are maximum amounts of damages which juries can award.  Too bad the Media doesn’t know.

It will come as a surprise that the Code of Hammurabi, an ancient Code from Babylon, set the first limits on retribution.    At Code section 196 we find the famous “eye for an eye” quote. “If a man put out the eye of another, his eye shall be put out.”   From that time on damages had to be equal to what was taken away: an eye for an eye.  The injured person gets back what was taken away.  Since the award is for a whole lifetime of problems he gets compensated for those problems now instead of coming back every couple of years for more.

The Florida  Model Verdict form defines the 3 types of damages you can get into 1) past and future medical bills, 2) past and future lost income or wages, and 3) quality of life losses for the past and future.  For example if a person has been injured and can’t work, has to have surgery, and will never be able to use their right arm again for the next 30 years, all of the fact are given to a jury and the jury literally fills in the blanks of a Verdict form.

If the Verdict form is filled in wrong, with too little or too much money, the Lawyers get to argue to the Judge why it needs to be fixed, and the Court has the discretion to adjust the award up or down. If not done correctly there can be an appeal.

So the next time you hear about a large damages award, you will know the Jury and the Court were just filling in the blanks and doing their  duty.  Shame on the media for not telling you the back story.

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