It’s a suspenseful moment. The jury members file into the jurors’ box. The judge asks the defendant to rise. And then the jury’s foreman reads the verdict. The revelation of the jury’s verdict has been a staple of television courtroom dramas from “Perry Mason” to “Law & Order.”
It can make for gripping television. But in the real world of civil litigation, where real people have suffered actual (often devastating) harm and seek just compensation, a jury verdict is not always the best outcome for our clients—even when that verdict is in our clients’ favor.
Why? Because, more often than not, what clients really want is to take something meaningful from a personal, professional, or family tragedy. A jury’s verdict cannot begin to match the healing potential of a carefully crafted settlement agreement.
Let’s give you some examples.
These three cases involving wrongful deaths show what settlement agreements can do that jury verdicts can’t. They also demonstrate how the impact of those agreements can reach beyond the victims’ families.
Ensuring proper testing of life-saving technology
One case involved the death of an elderly woman whose family had entrusted a senior living facility with her life. One night, the woman experienced a medical emergency and used her personal alert pendant to call for help. The alarm summoned an emergency medical squad, but sent them to the wrong address. Sadly, the woman was found dead hours later, still clutching the pendant that was supposed to help protect her.
None of the parties involved—the senior living facility, the company that made and installed the alarm system, or the company that monitored and responded to the system’s alarms—was willing to accept responsibility for the woman’s death. It took a lawsuit to sort it all out.
As part of the settlement agreement, the senior facility, at the family’s insistence, agreed to execute routine testing of the alarm systems in all its 300 nationwide facilities. The company agreed to provide signed and notarized certifications proving that testing had been completed.
The family wanted their mother’s death to mean something more than what financial compensation could provide. They wanted to ensure that such avoidable heartbreak would never be repeated.
Holding property management accountable for safety protocol
Another case involved the tragic death of a 4-year-old boy that could easily have been prevented. In his family’s apartment, the child tried to climb onto an electric stove, which tipped over and killed him.
The potential for this type of accident was known and could have been avoided easily had the apartment’s management company installed the recommended brackets that would have kept the stove from tipping over.
The case was resolved with a settlement that included a unique provision. Because their loss was so preventable, the family insisted that the property owners produce and broadcast a public service announcement to alert other property owners about the importance of using the anti-tip brackets. Again, they wanted their son’s death to have real meaning in helping to protect the lives of others.
Impacting legislation to prevent future wrongful death
One final example involved the death of a tow truck operator. He was hitching up a disabled vehicle on the side of the road at night. Even though all his warning lights were working as required, a passing car failed to change lanes and struck the operator. He was killed instantly.
To help the victim’s mother cope with her terrible loss, the settlement agreement in her case included the opportunity for her to meet with legislators. She lobbied for legislative changes in her state’s Move Over Law so that drivers would be required to change lanes not only for law enforcement vehicles, but also when seeing the flashing yellow lights of any emergency vehicle.
Turning grief to good is beyond the scope of juries
What all three of these cases have in common is that the surviving victims of the wrongful deaths were looking to take something meaningful—and even positive—out of their personal tragedies. That is not unusual.
Answers and assurance can provide healing that a monetary award cannot, and the litigation process helps produce both. Those remedies—and provisions for their enforcement—are simply not available in the courtroom. In civil litigation, juries have no power to compel specific actions on the part of any of the litigants. They can award compensation for damages, and that compensation is critical and necessary for the survivors. But it is also, too often, not enough.
That’s why settlements may provide a more appropriate resolution for clients. It gives survivors the best opportunity to make provisions that draw meaning from tragedy and, hopefully, accelerate the healing process.
If you find yourself in a situation involving personal injury or a wrongful death, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Ohio civil litigation attorneys at Cooper & Elliott for legal assistance. We’re here to help.
*Names in this article have been changed to protect our clients’ privacy.
The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.