Have you ever heard that Madison County, Illinois, is a “judicial hellhole”? That the verdicts were out of control in Madison County? To be honest, growing up in Southern Illinois, I always heard that statement and simply took it for the truth. Yet, that statement couldn’t be further from the truth. According to the Madison-St. Clair Record, only eight trials went to verdict last year in Madison County, Illinois. Of those eight trials combined, the total value of the verdicts was $251,464.90, but the highest verdict was an award for $159,464.90 in a breach of contract case, not a personal injury case. In 2018, nine cases went to trial, and the total value of those verdicts combined was $186,342 according to the Madison-St. Clair Record. Undoubtedly, large jury verdicts get the most publicity, but they are not the norm. From 2010 to 2016, the median jury award in personal injury cases was $68,189. Also, while our judicial system gives juries substantial power in determining verdicts, juries do not have the final word. For example, in the highly publicized Johnson & Johnson baby powder case in St. Louis, Missouri, the Missouri Court of Appeals cut the $4 billion verdict in half. Despite this, juries typically do their jobs very well. Studies have shown that judges, who are presumably less prone to bias and passion, agree with juries’ decisions at least 75% of the time.
What’s the moral of the story? Maybe large corporations, insurance companies, and tort reformists aren’t giving us the facts. Like I once did, many of us just take their statements as true, but the facts paint a different picture.