Juries Use Verdicts to Send Messages to Litigants – The Benefits of Mediation and Arbitration
Plaintiffs beware… Juries use verdicts to send messages.
Even if you think that you have a “slam dunk,” you never know what the outcome will be. Robert Maizel, who is an experienced trial lawyer has seen Juries award lots of money on cases where they probably should not have, and none on cases that were thought to be “sure winners.” Therefore, Mr. Maizel opines that sometimes it is best to use alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation or binding arbitration, to resolve your case.
A case in point occurred in Florida on May 31, 2018 when a federal court jury has awarded the family of a man who was fatally shot by a Sheriff’s Deputy in the garage of his own home $4.00 in a wrongful death suit.
Gregory Hill Jr, a 30-year-old black man, was fatally shot by Christopher Newman, a white deputy with the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, at his home in Fort Pierce, Florida, in January 2014 after Newman responded to a noise complaint about loud music. Newman and his partner, Deputy Edward Lopez, had reportedly knocked on Hill’s garage door to investigate the noise complaint. When the garage door eventually opened, Hill was standing by it with his left hand on the door and his right hand by his side. It is still unclear what exactly happened in the seconds that unfolded, as Newman drew his gun and fired four times toward Hill as the garage door started to go down. However, when a SWAT team arrived, they found Hill dead. He had been shot three times, including once in the head. Toxicology reports had shown Hill had been intoxicated at the time of the incident and the SWAT team found a gun in the 30-year-old’s back pocket, but it was not loaded, TCPalm reported.
Mr. Hill’s Mother filed a wrongful death suit against the officers claiming that her son’s death was due to the fault and negligence of the officers. The Jury deliberated for ten (10) hours and determined that Hill was ninety nine (99%) percent responsible for his own death. As such, the Jury awarded damages to Hill’s family in the amount of four ($4.00) dollars; $1.00 for funeral costs, and $1.00 to each of Hill’s three children for their loss. John Phillips, Esquire, the Hill family lawyer called this verdict “hurtful.”
What is learned from this verdict is not really related specifically to the events surrounding the shooting of Mr. Hill, but rather as to the unpredictable nature of a Jury. Robert Maizel is sure that the attorney for Mr. Hill’s family was sure that a verdict would come down in favor for his clients, but in this case that amount awarded was a message, rather than an award. The message was loud and clear, “don’t bring these types of cases to Juries.”
Attorneys need to assess their cases very well and educate their clients on the possibilities and uncertainties related to trial. Clients need to understand that there are no “slam dunks” except if LeBron James is involved. In today’s legal climate mediation or binding arbitration is usually a viable solution in most cases.
When a case is mediated, the parties choose a neutral party to help facilitate a potential resolution. There is nothing binding at mediation. A binding arbitration is when the parties elect one to three neutral parties to decide the outcome of the case. At these arbitrations, the parties can set high and low monetary parameters to limit the losses or gains in the case.
Robert Maizel, Esquire is an expert in the field of alternative dispute resolution and is happy to consult with any party who may have questions.