A Jury Verdict Research study found that the median award in Minnesota in personal injury cases is an even $30,000. Minnesota personal injury plaintiffs receive an award in 67 percent of cases that go to trial.
The median compensation in Minnesota is somewhat below the national median of $38,179 and I suspect Minneapolis, St. Paul and Rochester verdicts inflate that average a bit. But because Minnesota has no fault coverage (or PIP) in motor vehicle wreck claims up to $40,000 ($20,000 for medical bills and $20,000 for economic loss) that is subject to the collateral source rule, Minnesota personal injury lawyers tend to few small cases in Minnesota. In other words, Minnesota law provides that awards are offset by collateral source payments (if the source of reimbursement does not have a subrogation right). So the gap between the Minnesota’s median and the national median verdict is probably wider than the numbers reflect. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found Minnesota juries to be the “15th best” which means the 15th worst for personal injury victims.
Interestingly, recovery probability in Minnesota tort suits is 67% compared to the national average of 53%. I would think that the fewer amount of smaller claims would lead to a lower recovery probability because there are less smaller cases which typically do not involve a liability dispute (which you would think would actually lower the recovery probability). Accordingly, it is fair to infer from the data that Minnesota juries are inclined to believe Minnesota plaintiff’s claims as to how/why the crash/malpractice/injury occurred.
Although Minnesota juries are rather conservative, the big complaint that drug and device companies have about Minnesota is that its laws are favorable to personal injury victims. Last year, there was an ABA Journal article, Lawsuits Travel Up North: Land of Ten Thousand Lakes Is Flooded With Thousands of Out-of-State Filings, that discussed the benefits of filing products liability claims in Minnesota, including Minnesota reasonable six-year statute of limitations in products liability cases. While lawyers rarely have seriously injured clients in a car accident that come to them years after the cause of action arose, this is a far more common occurrence in products liability cases because it sometimes takes a while for people to understand the connection between the negligence and their injuries, even if that information is available under the “know or have reason to know standard.”
Recent Minnesota Verdicts
January 2013, Minnesota: $283,000 Verdict: Plaintiff was a front seat passenger in her friend’s compact car on their way to a local college. While at an intersection, the car veered off the roadway and entered a holding pond on the side of the road. The depth of the pond was deep enough to nearly submerge the vehicle and crack the front windshield. Following the accident, the plaintiff was treated by a chiropractor for sprains and strains in her cervical and lumbar spine as well as for soft-tissue damage in her neck. The plaintiff claimed she began to experience terrifying memories and nightmares after the accident and began treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. The plaintiff claimed that as a result of the accident, she is afraid of driving, has withdrawn from “all aspects of normal life” and has found the fear has crippled her ability to seek gainful employment. She sued the driver of the car as well as the driver’s mother who was vicariously responsible as the owner of the vehicle. The plaintiff’s treating chiropractor and psychiatrist confirmed her injuries (physical and mental, respectively) had been caused by the accident and would require ongoing, if not permanent, treatment. The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her $283,000.
July 2012, Minnesota: $500,000 Settlement: The twenty-nine year old decedent arrived at the emergency department of the defendant complaining of respiratory distress. The triage nurse noted shortness of breath and severe distress and shortly thereafter placed the decedent by herself in a treatment room while the nurse went to secure a nebulizer treatment. When the nurse returned, the decedent was not breathing and was unresponsive. The staff attempted to resuscitate the descendent, but she soon suffered hypoxic anoxic brain injury and ultimately died. The noted cause of death was acute asthma exacerbation complicated by acute respiratory arrest and cardiac arrest resulting in brain injury. The plaintiffs sued the defendants for negligence resulting in death. They alleged the defendants’ failure to recognize the condition as one that required immediate attention and fell below the standards of care. The also alleged that had a physician immediately seen the descendent, she could have been intubated and would have survived. The defendants denied the allegations and argued the delay in treatment was a matter of minutes and that earlier involvement would not have lead to survival. The parties settled during mediation for $500,000.
September 2011, Minnesota: $79,385 Verdict: Plaintiff was driving westbound on an interstate near an intersection. The plaintiff stops his vehicle due to traffic and is struck in the rear by the defendant’s vehicle, pushing the plaintiff’s vehicle into the one in front of him. The plaintiff claimed he suffered serious and permanent injuries in his neck and shoulders that caused persistent headaches.
The jury found the defendant was negligently operating his vehicle and responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries and awarded the plaintiff $79,385.
September 2011, Minnesota: $3,250,000 Settlement: A bus making a return trip from a casino was traveling on the interstate. En route, the bus went off the roadway and rolled over. Two passengers were killed and twenty were injured. In a mass action suit, the plaintiffs sued the bus company and driver for motor vehicle negligence and wrongful death.
The plaintiffs’ counsel accused the driver of falling asleep at the wheel due to an untreated condition of sleep apnea. They accused the driver of refusing treatment after his original diagnosis in 2001 and for lying about his condition on more than one occasion when renewing his commercial license. Plaintiff witnesses testified that his head nodded for a few minutes before driving off the highway.
The defense counsel argued that many passengers saw the driver lose consciousness seconds before the accident. They noted that after the accident the driver was taken to the hospital and treated for bleeding esophageal varices and pointed out that upon further treatment, providers found that this condition was what caused him to lose consciousness at the time of the accident.
The case settled globally for $3,250,000.
September 2011, Minnesota: $3,290.59 Verdict: Plaintiff’s vehicle spun out on an icy highway is shortly after struck by the defendant’s. The plaintiff was taken to the hospital by ambulance and the defendant is arrested for DWI with a .09 BAC. The plaintiff had a history of treatment for neck and back problems and had received an epidural cortisone injection in his back one week prior to the accident. The plaintiff claimed soft tissues injuries in his neck and back from the accident. His treating doctors limited any causal relationship between the plaintiff’s claimed injuries and the accident to treatments for between 12-16 weeks post accident. The plaintiff is awarded costs and disbursements in the amount of $3,561.66.
May 2011, Minnesota: $15,671.54 Verdict: Plaintiff is stopped on a parkway and is rear-ended by an uninsured drunk driver. Plaintiff claimed the collision totaled her car and caused her injuries in her shoulders and knees that had to be treated with surgeries. She also alleged injuries to her neck and back in addition to suffering lost wages. She claimed the defendant who rear ended her was in a negligent manner at the time of the collision.
The jury awarded the plaintiff $15,671.54 for past pain, emotional distress, past wage loss and healthcare expenses but did not find the Plaintiff sustained a permanent injury, nor was she disabled as a result of the accident.
It is hard to argue these are “sample” verdicts and settlements. We have clearly cherry picked some of the better results. Still, I think these are instructive in helping determine the value of these cases.