Jury Verdict Research conducted a study and found that the median award in a personal injury case is approximately $100,000. This is twice the national average. The bad news for New Jersey Plaintiffs is that they only win in 36 percent of personal injury cases that go to trial.
New Jersey has a good sample size to work with to compute this data. Over 130,000 civil lawsuits are filed every year. I don’t have data on how many of them are personal injury cases. But I can estimate: a lot.
Sometimes, median and average jury verdict information is inflated because the state processes the overwhelming majority of tort claims in state district court or, as New Jersey calls it, Special Civil Part. But New Jersey’s limit is $15,000 which is actually lower than most states.
But there is an important difference in New Jersey than some other states that does lead to an inflated average settlement value of New Jersey injury claims. New Jersey has no fault insurance, which means that victims bring more limited claims against their own insurance companies. Traditional civil claims are available, if the victim suffered a “significant” injury that cause a fracture, scar, dismemberment or other permanent injury (what constitutes permanent injury is a real battlefield in New Jersey).
Sampling of 2015 Settlement and Verdicts in New Jersey
I pulled four recent 2015 New Jersey settlements and verdicts at random. It is a small sample to be sure, but these cases certainly push back against the idea that New Jersey has overly generous juries. Two of the outcomes are very good, the other two outcomes are surprisingly low settlements.
- $500,000 Verdict in Bergen County: A 21-year old man was rear-ended by Defendant, at a speed he estimated at 30 miles per hour. I’m not sure how that estimate got into evidence but the property damage to both vehicles was significant. Plaintiff was ultimately diagnosed with a herniated disc at L5-S1 disc with an annular tear. The liability defense was the worst… the Defendant said that the Plaintiff’s break lights were out. Their damages argument was the typical “you had a neck and back sprain and now you are fine” argument. The jury obviously did not buy either argument. The pre-trial offer was a whopping $2,500 and the Defendant rejected a $75,000 Rule 4.58 Offer of Judgment. So Plaintiff can try to make a bad faith claim for the additional $400,000, plus additional fees and expenses as the verdict because the verdict was a lot more than 20% of the Offer of Judgment.
- $92,500 Settlement in Union County: Plaintiff was on a motorcycle and Defendant took a left turn in front of him. Plaintiff did not hit the car but rolled his bike during evasive measures. Plaintiff fractured two bones in his arm and fractures his hand (metacarpal) that required hardware and two surgeries. He also had carpal tunnel syndrome from the crash. I’m sure sure whether there was a meaningful liability dispute. It seems like a low settlement. I don’t know if other factors were at play.
- $65,000 Settlement in Essex County: A 31-year-old woman was rear ended at a stop light and pushed into the lead car. She claimed she suffered a herniated disc at L5-S1 and neck and shoulder injuries. The jury found there was a permanent injury, but only awarded $65,000. Another verdict that is much lower than I would expect.
$875,000 Settlement in Middlesex County: Plaintiff was a passenger in a work van that was rear ended. He had two herniations in his neck and had a fusion. Plaintiff was still in pain after the surgery and was concerned that he could no longer work. The at fault driver tended its small $15,000 policy but he had a $1 million uninsured motorist policy. Given that this was an uninsured motorist claim with capped coverage, this seems like a pretty good outcome for the Plaintiff.