Tuesday, February 04, 2003

60 minutes has again gone beyond the pale. In a recent story on a Mississippi jury awarding $150 million in 2 separate products liability cases, they included statements, one unattributed, as follows:

[The jury] awarded these people this money because they felt as if they were going to get a cut off of it.

Morley Safer asked in response, "The jurors benefit? Is that what you're saying?" The unidentified speaker replied, "They benefit after court, and everything is over with, yes, sir ... under the table."


The African Americans feel like it's payback for disenfranchisement. And the rednecks, shall we say, it's like, 'Hey, you know, get back at' — revenge for the Civil War. And it's very easy to weave this racial conflict and this class conflict into a big money pot for the attorneys.

60 Minutes' response: "We stand by the story."

Putting these kinds of statements on national TV is incredibly irresponsible, and it certainly sounds defamatory to me. I hope they hit 60 Minutes for a fortune.

And, by the way, I have said this for years: don't comment on a verdict unless you were in the jury box -- or at least in the courtroom -- to see ALL the evidence. Most lawyers will tell you that juries work very hard to be fair and to do their job responsibly. You know, there were defense lawyers in that trial, and you can bet they were doing everything they could to get a zero verdict. The fact that the jury came back so high indicates that the liability and damages must have been catastrophic.

Final word on this. The Big Insurance types will tell you about the high verdicts, but they don't say a word when the judge or the appeals court reduces the verdict downward. In fact, I am told that in Bronx County, New York, juries routinely return big verdicts, and the trial judges just as routinely cut them down. There are plenty of safeguards -- maybe too many -- in the existing system to prevent a "runaway jury." Of course, for Big Insurance, there are never too many, because they NEVER want to pay a claim.

UPDATE: Bill Haltom, in the Tennessee Bar Journal , has some judicious warnings [click the link and then select Haltom's article over on the left hand side] for 60 Minutes' lawyers.

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