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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Jury Awards More Than Asked for in Lawsuit

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After almost four years, a Tampa, FL woman is still awaiting compensation for the wrongful death of her husband. She has yet to see a dime of the $7 million wrongful death award she received from a Tampa jury after her husband, a Tampa police veteran, was killed in a motorcycle accident in May 2008. A county employee turned a pick-up truck into the path of the off-duty officer’s motorcycle, causing his death. The family offered to settle with the county for $2 million – the maximum amount covered by the county's insurance policy, but the county refused and elected to try the case to a jury. Big mistake!

The lawsuit sought damages of $5.1 million. The jury felt the case was worth more than that amount; the panel awarded the plaintiff $7 million. The county has 30 days to file an appeal.

How can an award be greater than sought compensation? Because the determination of damages awards in personal injury cases is left to the sound discretion of the trier of fact, in this case, the jury. The plaintiff must rely on the jury to examine the facts of the case and determine fair compensation. Obviously, in this case, the panel believed in the plaintiff’s case.

Fortunately, Florida had the guts to strike down limits on non-economic damages in an auto accident claim. But, with or without an appeal, it could be years before the family sees any money because the award exceeds the county’s insurance policy.

Every injury, every fatality, every case is different; the 7th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees a right to a jury trial in civil cases. This is why arbitrary caps, legislatively mandated damages, are an unconstitutional intrusion into the function of the justice system and the function of the jury. In a blatant violation of the concept of separation of powers, the legislature inserts its own version of justice in place of the jury’s. Damages caps infringe on the right to trial by jury; they create a “one size fits all” solution when the reality is that each accident victim experiences his/her own, unique, set of consequences and/or accident impact. Many factors must be considered when a jury reviews the evidence and renders an award; many factors go into the evaluation of pain and suffering.

You may be thinking $7 million is a lot of money; no amount can “replace” a loved one. It is truly a loss for which any compensation is inadequate. So, why isn’t the $2 million insurance policy enough? Should this woman take the $2 million (if it is ever offered by the insurance company) and move on with her life? The preventable, wrongful death of a loved one is devastating; something no one should have to experience. Personally, I believe she should wait out the process; she should not accept policy limits for three important reasons: 1. When she was willing to accept policy limits, the insurance company/county refused and forced the case to trial. 2. The jury awarded her $7 million. 3. The Defendants in this case should be taught a lesson. They chose to try the case when the sensible thing to do was to settle for policy limits. Why go through a jury trial and the inherent risks that trial presents, come out with a significant award, and then concede the bulk of it to the greedy defendant who forced you into it? If the plaintiff needs immediate access to money, she should consider lawsuit funding from an experienced provider of that service rather than settling below the jury award. Lawsuits and significant jury awards for those who violate safety laws are the number one safety enforcement tool in America. It is time for all of us to stand up to legislators who would cap our damages in violation of the 7th Amendment. Stand up for justice, America. Lawsuit Financial extends its condolences to the family of the deceased officer and best wishes for a speedy and fair outcome to this important litigation.

Mark Bello has thirty-five years experience as a trial lawyer and thirteen years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by a plaintiff involved in pending, personal injury, litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Mississippi, Connecticut, Texas, and Tennessee Associations for Justice, and Consumers Attorneys of California, member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.