In October, 2011, as General Counsel for the primary Defendant, I was assisting our litigation team in preparing for closing argument regarding a multi-vehicle accident case in which we had admitted liability for a rear-end collision that killed the driver of one car and severely injured the passenger who was now a quadriplegic. The case was being tried in Cook County, Illinois, where juries have a well-deserved reputation for rendering some of the largest verdicts in the nation and the young Plaintiff in this particular matter was extremely sympathetic. I had scrutinized each juror’s demeanor and reactions during the three-week trial and knew without a doubt that we were facing a potential award in excess of our $54 Million in insurance coverage. Plaintiff’s counsel had delivered an impassioned closing argument at the end of the day that had a visible impact on each juror, but he refrained from requesting a specific award of damages. We would deliver our closing argument the next morning and our insurance carrier basically instructed our litigator that the closing should recommend an award of $23 Million, which included approximately $13 Million just for future medical expenses.
As the jury came into the courtroom that next fateful morning, I noticed that the first one was wearing a black shirt, and then I felt the color draining from my face as each one came out of the jury room wearing a black shirt also. Two things were immediately obvious. First, the jury had already been discussing the case and its leader had convinced all members to engage in the parade of black into the courtroom during the final day of trial. Second, the wearing of black was undeniably a sign of solidarity with the Plaintiff, basically showing that they were all grieving with him for his catastrophic injuries.
Despite this extreme turn of events, our attorney stuck to the insurance carrier’s instruction and recommended $23 Million to the jury, who clearly appeared disinterested. The orchestrated black attire was not lost on Plaintiff’s counsel, of course, who rocketed out of his chair at the start of rebuttal and delivered an angry tirade about how we had attempted to cheapen this poor young man’s suffering and had insulted the jurors themselves by suggesting with a straight face that they award such a paltry sum. After doing his utmost to basically try and incite a riot, he banged his fist on the podium, looked each one straight in the eye and told them that the right thing here was to issue a verdict in the amount of $102 Million, “and not one penny less.”
The jury deliberated for a day-and-a-half, during which time I was certain that the only way for my company to survive imminent financial catastrophe would be to do battle with our insurance carrier for failing to adequately pursue settlement within the range of coverage. When the jury finally filed into the courtroom to deliver the verdict, they weren’t wearing black shirts anymore and one of them looked at me for the very first time and even gave me a little smile. I don’t know who in that courtroom was more surprised when the jury announced its verdict was $23 Million, exactly what we had recommended. As soon as they were discharged, I asked the woman who had smiled at me what was going on with the black shirts. She seemed surprised that I had asked, and said that the day before someone had suggested that they all wear the same color shirt on the last day to help them act like a team during deliberations, and it just so happened that the only color of shirt that they all had clean in the closet was black. When I picked my jaw up off of the floor, I asked her what the jurors had thought about the highly charged rebuttal by Plaintiff’s attorney and she said they were all put off by it, and if anything, it made them lean more toward our recommendation in the end.
The lesson learned about juries here is simple: there is no lesson that can be learned about juries, and they will always be highly unpredictable…………
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The Worst Jury Prediction Ever
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