A jury recently awarded $20 million against the City of Exeter in San Luis Obispo County, California in a case involving a 2016 retired police dog which attacked and killed one individual and injured another. The jury verdict fits the mold of the typical Nuclear Verdicts™ plaguing our country. Defense attorneys can utilize methods to prevent these types of verdicts from being handed down if they understand and recognize the mold.
The Civil Suit: Betty Long, et al. v. City of Exeter, et al.
Tragically, a retired police dog escaped the backyard it lived in and killed David Fear and injured Betty Long.[i] The children of David Fear and Betty Long, filed suit against the City of Grover Beach, the Grover Beach Police Department, Exeter Police Department, the dog owner – former Grover Beach police officer Alex Geiger, and the property owners of the house where Geiger lived.[ii]
The jury found the dog should not have been kept as a pet and could not be untrained as a police K9.[iii] The jury also found the dog should have been kept in a kennel unless under Geiger’s direct control. The Grover Police Department and City of Grover Beach were removed from the lawsuit.[iv]
The City of Exeter, which trained the dog, was hit with a $20 million dollar verdict.[v] $7 million dollars of the verdict was awarded to the children of the person killed, David Fear, and the other $13.8 million went to the person injured, Betty Long.[vi]
How Can Defense Attorneys Fight Against Nuclear Verdicts™?
Plaintiffs’ counsel often focus on the deliberate actions of the defendants instead of defendants’ negligence. A plaintiff’s rendition of a defendant’s actions can skew a jury and incite sympathy and anger.
Typically, defense counsel focuses on the facts of the case during trial. Logically, presenting the facts should be enough. However, in the age of Nuclear Verdicts™, it is not. As Robert F. Tyson, Jr. explains in his book, Nuclear Verdicts: Defending Justice for All, there is a playbook defense counsel can follow to neutralize the plaintiff’s reptilian tactics and gain the upper hand with a jury.[vii]
Defense counsel must accept responsibility in every case.[viii] Defense counsel may try to argue to the jury that their client is not liable and then point the finger at plaintiff and/or another defendant. However, it is better for defense counsel to accept responsibility, then suggest others are also responsible. By accepting responsibility, defense counsel can defuse any anger the jury is feeling.[ix]
Give a Number
Additionally, to counter an enormous damages demand, defense counsel should always present a defense number to the jury.[x] Plaintiffs’ counsel will commonly mention outrageous numbers to the jury so the jury is comfortable with the outrageous numbers when it is time to award damages. Defense counsel should do the same with a defense number. The defense anchor number should be mentioned early in voir dire and referenced throughout the case so the jury is just as comfortable with the defense number.[xi]
Argue Pain and Suffering
Defense counsel must also argue pain and suffering.[xii] As Mr. Tyson explains, defense counsel must talk to the jury about the impact of the incident on plaintiff and the impact of money on plaintiff’s life. Plaintiff’s counsel will certainly present an account of how life is bad for the plaintiff after the incident; defense counsel must tell a different side of the story to reframe the picture painted by plaintiff’s counsel and show the jury the entire picture.[xiii]
By following all of the methods in Mr. Tyson’s book, defense counsel can work to prevent Nuclear Verdicts™ and reverse the current trend we are seeing.
[i] KSBY Staff, Testimony Underway in Civil Case Following Fatal 2016 Grover Beach Dog Attack (Last updated July 14, 2021), available at: https://www.ksby.com/news/local-news/testimony-underway-in-civil-case-following-fatal-2016-grover-beach-dog-attack.
[ii] KSBY Staff, Jury Selection Begins in Civil Case Against City of Exeter Following Fatal Grover Beach Dog Attack (Last accessed July 1, 2021), available at: https://www.ksby.com/news/local-news/jury-selection-begins-in-civil-case-against-city-of-exeter-following-fatal-grover-beach-dog-attack.
[iii] KSBY Staff, 20 Million Verdict Reached in Civil Case Involving Fatal Grover Beach Dog Attack (Last updated July 29, 2021), available at: https://www.ksby.com/news/local-news/20-million-verdict-reached-in-civil-case-involving-fatal-grover-beach-dog-attack.
[v] KSBY Staff, 20 Million Verdict Reached in Civil Case Involving Fatal Grover Beach Dog Attack (Last updated July 29, 2021), available at: https://www.ksby.com/news/local-news/20-million-verdict-reached-in-civil-case-involving-fatal-grover-beach-dog-attack.
[vii] Tyson, Robert F., Nuclear Verdicts: Defending Justice for All, 2020. Law Dog Publishing, LLC.
[viii] Tyson, Robert F., Nuclear Verdicts: Defending Justice for All, 2020. Law Dog Publishing, LLC.
[x] Tyson, Robert F., Nuclear Verdicts: Defending Justice for All, 2020. Law Dog Publishing, LLC.
[xii] Tyson, Robert F., Nuclear Verdicts: Defending Justice for All, 2020. Law Dog Publishing, LLC.