Nuclear Verdicts® are on the rise across the country. Nuclear Verdicts® are generally defined as jury awards over $10 million. Another common definition includes verdicts where the general damages award—damages for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, etc.—is disproportionate to the plaintiff’s economic damages. Such verdicts generally occur when plaintiffs’ counsel employ tactics to anger the jury or make them fearful. However, defense counsel can successfully defuse jury anger and obtain a jury award based on facts and common sense by employing the right methods.
Roybal v. Bellomo & SHAC, LLC
On May 25, 2022, a Clark County, Nevada, jury awarded $14 million to plaintiff Thunder Roybal, a bicyclist. Roybal was hit by Bellomo, a driver for Sapphire Gentleman’s club (operated by SHAC, LLC).[i] Following the accident, plaintiff underwent four major surgeries to treat crush injuries to his shoulder, neck, and chest.[ii]
The defense argued Roybal’s unsafe behavior caused the accident, argued not all his surgeries were related to the accident, and suggested he may have staged the accident.[iii] The jury ultimately awarded Roybal $14 million as follows:[iv]
- Past Medical Expenses: $2,126,607.74
- Past physical pain, mental pain, suffering, anguish (for example shock, fright, emotional upset, and/or humiliation), disability, and loss of enjoyment of life: $3,000,000.00
- Past physical pain, mental pain, suffering, anguish (for example shock, fright, emotional upset, and/or humiliation), disability, and loss of enjoyment of life: $9,000,000.00
In Roybal, the defense did not appear to accept any liability, and instead argued plaintiff, who was traveling on a slow “cruiser” bike, may have been irritated by the SUV’s lights, honking, and revving of its engine behind him. Thus, the defense proposed plaintiff swerved in to strike the SUV when it finally moved to pass him, causing the accident.[v]
The primary reason to accept responsibility is reasonableness – taking responsibility for something makes you appear reasonable. We all, including juries, prefer reasonable people to unreasonable people. We also find them more credible. Where it appears split liability is a potential outcome, accepting responsibility is not only reasonable, but it may also help move the jury’s focus from the defendant to the actions and faults of the plaintiff.[vi] If the defense had accepted responsibility for the impatient driver’s actions, the jury may have more closely scrutinized the actions of the plaintiff. Another important result of taking responsibility is to defuse jury anger – acknowledging defendant’s fault or error when accepting responsibility punctures a hole in the “anger balloon” plaintiff is trying to inflate.[vii] Accepting responsibility can move the jury’s focus from the actions of defendant to the actions of plaintiff, a critical shift when seeking to defuse juror anger, limit liability and damages, and avoid a Nuclear Verdict.
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[i] David Siegel, 14M+ Awarded to Cyclist Struck by SUV in No-Offer Case, Courtroom View Network (June 1, 2022), https://blog.cvn.com/14m-awarded-to-cyclist-struck-by-suv-in-no-offer-case; Roybal v. Bellomo, et. al., Clark County Dist. Ct. No. A-18-778040-C, Nevada (Jul. 9, 2022).
[iv] Roybal v. Bellomo, et. al., Clark County Dist. Ct. No. A-18-778040-C, Judgment Upon the Jury Verdict (July 11, 2022).
[v] Roybal v. Bellomo, et. al., Clark County Dist. Ct. No. A-18-778040-C, RECORDER’S TRANSCRIPT OF JURY TRIAL – DAY 9 , 5/24/2022, 125:13-129:18.
[vi] Robert F. Tyson, Jr., Nuclear Verdicts: Defending Justice for All (2020).