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Most jury verdict reporting services vastly overstate the average awards in most kinds of litigation, according to an unpublished study conducted by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). “We warn policy-makers and researchers to be extremely cautious when relying on reporting-service statistics,” said Paula Hannaford-Agor, a staff attorney and principal court research consultant at the NCSC, who co-authored the study with Thomas Cohen, a statistician with the U.S. Department of Justice’s bureau of justice statistics (BJS). The BJS-funded study was conducted in 42 of the nation’s 75 largest counties that had verdict reporting services. The report, entitled, “Treading on Uncertain Ground: The Reliability of Jury Verdict Reporter Statistics,” also cautions litigators to be wary “when comparing settlement offers to average awards in purportedly similar cases described in jury verdict reporters.” The study’s findings suggest that plaintiffs win less often and receive substantially lower awards than is usually reported, explained Hannaford-Agor. That doesn’t surprise an official of VerdictSearch, a jury verdict reporting service with a national presence. (VerdictSearch is owned by ALM, parent of The National Law Journal.) “I’m not surprised because the smaller cases are less likely to be reported,” said Robert Benjamin, director of operations, database and Web administration. “We think it’s going to be a relative sampling and we market it as a way for lawyers to evaluate cases.” Reports rely on data Studies on trends and outcomes in jury verdicts that are founded on jury verdict reporting service data are common, such as the numerous studies conducted by the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Rand Institute for Civil Justice. The institute aims to supply “government and private decision-makers and the public with the results of objective, empirically based, analytic research,” according to its Web site. An institute report on the effects of medical practice caps on trial awards and attorney fees in California is based entirely on 1995-1999 data obtained from California Jury Verdicts Weekly, a company acquired by VerdictSearch in early 2001. The report has a caveat, which notes that “jury verdict reporters such as CJVW do not capture all trials. We have no way of determining the extent of the gap in our data, but limited evidence suggests that it could be substantial.” That did not stop the institute from drawing numerous conclusions based on the data it had. “Those conclusions are the best you can do with the available data,” said Stephen Carroll, an institute economist. “We warn the reader of the limitations and so it’s the reader’s choice.” After comparing medical malpractice data in California in 2001, the NCSC study found that while the verdict reporter had published data on 66 trials in which the plaintiffs won 31.8% of the time, NCSC data found a total of 87 trials in which the plaintiffs won 25.3% of the time during the same period. The verdict reporter data showed the median compensatory award was $1.125 million and the mean was $2.148 million, while the NCSC data put the median compensatory award at $335,000 and the mean compensatory award at $528,000-differences of more than 300%. The verdict reporter had cases that the NCSC did not, and vice versa. When matched cases were compared with the information in the case files, the study found that the reporting service had overreported verdicts by an average of $152,000. Most verdict reporting services do not purport to capture all the jury verdicts in their geographical coverage areas. They get their data primarily from lawyers and newspaper articles. The new study used data from the 2001 Civil Justice Survey (CJS) of State Courts conducted by NCSC and BJS, and compared it with data from 20 jury verdict reporting services. The CJS data were verified by court records. CJS had slightly more than twice the number of verdicts in its data set than those that were published. Nationally, the reporters showed a plaintiff win rate of 60.1%, median compensatory damages of $66,548, mean compensatory awards of $1.247 million and median punitive damage awards of $137,516. CJS data showed a plaintiff win rate of 51.2%, median compensatory damages of $40,271, mean compensatory awards of $680.551 and median punitive awards of $75,000.

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