New York is one of the top states for jury verdicts worth $10 million or more, recent studies have found. These so-called “nuclear” verdicts are heavily concentrated in matters involving personal injuries, including premises liability, worker safety, and construction. Nearly half of all New York’s nuclear verdicts involve the state’s Scaffold Law. Noneconomic damage awards also play a significant role in large New York verdicts.

While verdicts exceeding $10 million remain uncommon in New York, they’re on the rise, and underscore the importance of hiring a law firm with experienced trial lawyers.

New York a Top State for Supersized Verdicts

In 2019, A Kings County jury awarded $110,000,000 to a man whose spinal cord was fractured by a falling railroad tie near an elevated Brooklyn construction project, rendering him a paraplegic. A jury awarded him $10 million in past medical expenses, $40 million in future medical expenses, and $60 million for pain and suffering.

Marathon Strategies Report

The Kings County verdict, one of the largest ever awarded to a single plaintiff in New York, is considered “thermonuclear,” or over $100 million. There were 191 such verdicts nationwide from 2009 – 2002, according to a recent report from Marathon Strategies called Corporate Verdicts Go Thermonuclear.

Over the same period, there were 882 nuclear verdicts against corporate defendants, the report found. New York was among the top states for nuclear verdicts over the study period, with 42% involving workplace/premises liability matters.

The report states that a primary factor in New York nuclear verdicts is the state’s Labor Law 240 (the Scaffold Law). This law imposes absolute liability on employers for workplace-related injuries that occur at height, even if an injured worker is at fault.

Another factor in large New York verdicts is that the state does not cap awards for pain and suffering. As seen in the case of the paraplegic Brooklyn biker, the amount of pain and suffering compensation awarded to him exceeded his medical care compensation.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Report

The Marathon Strategies report came just months after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce published its own study about nuclear verdicts. Nuclear Verdicts: Trends, Causes, and Solutions looked at more than 1,300 nuclear verdicts from 2010 – 2019. It found that New York ranked third for the total number of nuclear verdicts during the years studied and second in per capita nuclear verdicts.

Of the 151 reported New York nuclear verdicts, 29.8% involved premises liability, 22.5% involved medical liability, and 19.2% involved car accidents. Nuclear NY verdicts were most common in New York City, Kings County, and Bronx County, according to the U.S. Chamber.

Like the Marathon Strategies report, the U.S. Chamber study identified the Scaffold Law as a significant contributor to nuclear New York verdicts. It cites a $102 million verdict given to an injured construction worker that included $85.75 million for pain and suffering. Although this amount was later reduced on appeal, the resulting $20 million pain and suffering award still set a New York record.

The study notes that noneconomic damages are often the largest component of a nuclear verdict. In 6 out of 10 years studied, the total amount of noneconomic damages in nuclear verdicts surpassed the amount of economic and punitive damages combined.

Importance of New York Jury Trials

The right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers is a fundamental right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, allowing for direct citizen participation in the judicial process and a check against government overreach.

But trials have become more and more rare. The percentage of civil cases that go to trial declined by over 90% from 1938 to 2009. And there is evidence that the trend of declining jury trials accelerated during the pandemic. The rate of federal court civil cases that go to trial is now less than 0.5%, while the rate of jury trials in state court civil cases is under 1%.

A 2021 paper about the decline of the civil jury in U.S. courts says that the civil jury trial is at risk of being eradicated. It concludes that the loss of jury trials would come with a loss of sociopolitical benefits, including enhanced quality of fact-finding, a diversity of voices in dispute resolution, increased civic engagement, and the perceived legitimacy of the civil justice system. The paper also points out that attacks against jury trials—like those found in the recent Marathon Strategies and U.S. Chamber papers—have been a major factor in the current civil jury crisis.

The Sanders Law Firm Tries and Wins Cases

Even when a lawsuit is ultimately settled, the ability to try a case—and a track record of winning jury trials—is a powerful bargaining chip that sends a strong message to insurance companies and other defendants.

At The Sanders Law Firm, we have the ability to try cases in every county in the state of New York. Our lawyers are members of prestigious trial lawyer groups such as the National Trial Lawyers, the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, and the New York State Trial Lawyers Association.

Don’t settle for less. Contact The Sanders Law Firm and talk to an experienced trial lawyer about your case.