Nuclear Verdicts® are on the rise across the country, and no industry is exempt. Precedent has been set in Florida, where a Miami-Dade jury returned one of the largest verdicts in history in an automobile accident case. Jurors awarded $95 million in damages plus attorneys’ fees to a family whose daughter was killed and son was severely injured by a drunk driver in 2015.[i]
A drunk driver was driving 70 mph on the wrong side of Interstate 95 after having several alcoholic drinks. His headlights were off when he slammed head-on into the plaintiff’s vehicle.[ii] This accident killed plaintiffs’ daughter and left their son severely injured.[iii]
The jury found the owner of The Corner, a bar in Miami, had been negligent in serving alcohol to the inebriated driver. The jury ordered the owner to pay almost $59 million for the medical care of the son and $37 million in damages to the parents. Florida’s dram shop statute, which leans on the restrictive side for plaintiffs, states a person who is selling alcohol is only liable for injury or damage if they willfully and unlawfully serve a person who is not of the legal drinking age or if they knowingly serve a person who is habitually addicted to alcohol.[iv]
Lessons from the TM Methods
With Nuclear Verdicts® in the news more frequently, the Tyson & Mendes trial methods are more important than ever. One of these methods, which is crucial to helping mitigate juror anger and can help a jury sympathize with the defendant, is personalizing the corporate defendant. When personalizing the corporate defendant, one of the key strategies is to select a corporate representative who will be present in court. This representative will speak for the corporate entity and will do their best to create a good impression of the corporation. Incorporating another Tyson & Mendes method, accepting responsibility, the representative will help the corporation also accept responsibility.
While it is not clear how defense attorneys chose to portray the corporation or what arguments they used, plaintiff’s counsel commented on one of defendant’s strategies. The owner of the bar, defendant, did not appear at trial.[v] Plaintiff’s counsel reminded jurors of that fact in closing argument.[vi] This could have impacted the jurors’ views of the bar and its owner, perhaps suggesting defendant was not doing all they could to accept responsibility, was not empathetic to plaintiff, and was not affected by what happened to plaintiff – thus angering the jury.
Unfortunately, there are too many new records being broken with the rise of Nuclear Verdicts®. When a jury awards an unreasonable damages number, it can take a toll on the insurer. Although the bar was found liable, an important factor to keep an eye on is where the plaintiffs will recover their money from. For many nightclubs or restaurants, their liquor liability insurance covers no more than $2 million.[vii] This leaves the plaintiffs with the choice of how to collect their judgment; including taking the possible route of pursuing a bad faith claim from the insurer.[viii]
[i] William Rabb, Miami Jury Orders Bar That Served Drunken Driver to Pay $96M in Damages, Insurance Journal, (Jul. 7, 2022), https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2022/07/07/674884.htm; Criales et al. v. Chavez et al., No. 2017-006062-CA-01, 11th Circ. Ct. of Fla. (Jul. 9, 2022).
[iv] Fla. Stat. 768.125.
[v] William Rabb, Miami Jury Orders Bar That Served Drunken Driver to Pay $96M in Damages, Insurance Journal, (Jul. 7, 2022).
[vii] William Rabb, Miami Jury Orders Bar That Served Drunken Driver to Pay $96M in Damages, Insurance Journal, (Jul. 7, 2022).