Can You Avoid a Nuclear Verdict?

The stakes are getting higher, and the risks are real. Verdicts against health care entities and providers are becoming more severe and more frequent.

The recent Inside Medical Liability publication from Medical Professional Liability (MPL) documents that from 2016 to 2019, the 50 largest verdicts nationally rose in severity over 50% — to an average of $23 Million! [1] We see similar trends in Maryland regarding these so-called “nuclear verdicts” (defined as a jury award exceeding $10 Million).

These are serious bottom-line costs to any entity and will impact the way health care organizations, insurers, and the like, make future business decisions.

  • MPL identifies several factors for this dramatic increase including the following:
  • Plaintiffs’ trial tactics such as the reptilian and trojan horse theories;
  • The funding from private equity money;
  • Inflated life care plans, economic reports and life expectancy assessments; and
  • Inflamed and/or “punishment” verdicts based on anger, including the impact of societal unrest that contributes to anger.

So what can be done to mitigate the risks?

It makes sense to start with the factors that could potentially trigger a nuclear verdict.

In our experience, if plaintiffs’ counsel can make the jury angry or show that the health care providers are not caring or empathetic, the risk of large verdicts increases exponentially. Therefore, whether it’s the use of a jury consultant or defense themes in general, it is imperative that your doctor or provider comes across as confident and compassionate.

It’s hard to say where we go from here. No one knows whether post-COVID jury verdicts will be higher or lower. What is important is that defense counsel employs all the strategies possible to counter the plaintiffs’ bar and reduce the risks of nuclear verdicts.

If you have any questions about big verdicts in Maryland, or strategies on how to avoid them, please let us know. We are here to help.

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[1] Amy Buttell, Nuclear Verdicts Escalate, Inside Medical Liability (April 2021)

Saamia Dasti

Saamia Dasti

Saamia Dasti is a trial attorney at Waranch & Brown with extensive litigation experience. Her practice is focused on the defense of physicians, hospitals, research institutions and product manufacturers. Ms. Dasti has tried cases to verdict in Maryland State and Federal courts and the District of Columbia. She also has experience in Maryland's appellate courts and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
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