Jury Verdicts/Awards In Arizona In the years 2017, 2018 and 2019

2017 Arizona Medical Malpractice Verdicts and Trends

The largest Arizona civil verdict in 2017 of $15 million was a medical malpractice case in which a patient died after being injected with a blood-clotting drug.  In general, Arizona juries in 2017 gave only one verdict over $ 10 million, and 11 verdicts between $1 million and $10 million.  Four of the top-most verdicts were from Pima County, three from federal court, and three from Maricopa County.  Eight of the 10 highest awards were given by juries, and two in bench trials.

It was determined by an annual Arizona civil verdict study* that since 2009, the number of Arizona civil cases that are tried all the way to verdict has been and still is declining, starting in 2009.  Each year since 2016, the number of trials dropped.  The ABA Task Force on the Vanishing Jury Trial found several reasons it believes contribute to fewer jury trials:

A.   The increasing use and success of alternative dispute resolution.

B.   The increasing scope, time and expense of discovery.

C.   Delay in resolution of cases by jury trial and heavier court dockets.

D.   The uncertainty and unpredictability of jury verdicts, or the perception of the same.

E.   The increased filing and granting of dispositive motions.

F.    The lack of trial experience by lawyers and judges.

G.   Information obtain from Arizona Civil Verdicts: 2017, Kelly Wilkins & Troy   Daniel Roberts, Arizona Attorney June 208. P. 28 and 26

The above trend did not change significantly in 2018.  The top verdicts for 2018 were slightly higher in amount than 2017.   Arizona juries gave only one verdict over $10 million, for the second year in a row.  They gave 14 verdicts between $1 million and $10 million.  Five of the highest verdicts were from Maricopa County. Four from federal court and one from Mohave County.  The largest medical malpractice verdict statewide.  was $4 million and occurred in Maricopa County.  This study also showed that over the last several years, counties with smaller populations and on the outer geographical parts of Arizona lean more conservatively on verdicts and also tend to return more defense verdicts or plaintiff’s verdicts which are relatively low.

*Arizona Civil Verdicts: 2017, Arizona Attorney Magazine, June 2018 Issue at pages 18 through 29 and Arizona Civil Verdicts: 2018, June 2019 Issue at pages 12 through 23.

Other factors which must be considered in evaluating and predicting civil jury results in Arizona are as follows:

A.   Some surmise a change due to decreased deference by juries to doctor’s decisions, insurance carriers forcing more cases to trial, and more errors due to the institutionalization of medicine.  Others believe that doctors can be reluctant to consent to settlements, particularly when they believe their medical decisions were correct.  In other situations, a doctor may want to settle but the insurance company may refuse.  Others have observed that plaintiffs’ counsel, challenged by the cost and risk in pursuing such cases, are more selectively pursuing matters with very high damages potential.  Still another theory about larger verdicts is that money doesn’t have the same effect on juries as it once did.”

As you can see from the above information, a common misconception in Arizona and elsewhere is that medical malpractice cases are frequent, plentiful and result in speedy and sizable settlements. This is not the case, and one must view these beliefs with significant skepticism. Arizona has a limited number of medical malpractice insurers, but without exception they are sophisticated, have a great deal of resources, and often litigate their cases up to and through trial. They have extensive resources including a large network of qualified experts on whom they know they can depend, regardless of the facts that oppose them.  They are always prepared to spend considerable funds to defend their insured medical providers and to defend the litigation on behalf of these providers sometimes when the odds are against it. Arizona is not a direct-action state, so juries are never told that a doctor or health care provider has insurance.  The jurors, to the contrary, may be under the misimpression that any verdict may bankrupt the physician or other providers involved. Statistics have shown that 80-90% of medical malpractice cases that are tried are lost by the victims. In 2000,

It is apparent from these recent statistics and this information that the odds of success in medical malpractice cases make the pursuit of these type claims very challenging.  It is good to see that the situation has improved somewhat in the last few years, but it is quite evident why potential cases and clients must be closely screened.  It is also true that many of the best cases of medical malpractice are settled without the necessity of going through a trial so the results of these cases are not factored into the statistics above.

Notable 2018 Arizona Medical Malpractice Verdicts

Arizona juries gave only one verdict over $10 million for the second year in a row, and the largest verdict ($24 million)) was in a helicopter crash case, not a medical malpractice case.  The highest award for a malpractice case was $4 million given to an outpatient who was treated at Arizona Healing Center for drug addiction.  He stayed at the center for 84 days, but then overdosed and died at home.  The decedent’s parents sued his doctor and the Healing Center and its founder for professional misconduct, negligence and consumer fraud.  This was the only medical malpractice case in the top 10 Arizona verdicts in 2018

*Arizona Civil Verdicts: 2017, Arizona Attorney Magazine, June 2018 Issue at pages 18 through 29 and Arizona Civil Verdicts: 2018, June 2019 Issue at pages 12 through 23.

Notable 2019 Arizona Medical Malpractice Verdicts

The largest medical malpractice verdict in Arizona for 2019 was $5 million.  It was returned in Pima County Superior Court for the estate of a 20 year old student who went to Sierra Tucson, a holistic addiction and mood disorder treatment center to receive treatment for substance  addicti8on and obsessive-compulsive disorder  The treatment required a 24/7  bedside nurse, who fell asleep while supervising thee patient.  Four days after checking in, the patient was found unresponsive.  He was rushed to the hospital, where he died.  The patient’s mother brought a wrongful death case in which she alleged the nursing staff and patient care assistants fell below the standard of care for a drug treatment center while caring for her son.  The jury awarded the estate and the mother $5 million in compensatory damages.  This was the only medical malpractice case in the top ten Arizona civil verdicts in 2020.

Arizona Civil Verdicts: 2019, Arizona Attorney Magazine pages 14 through 25

AND THEN THERE IS 2020-   The Court system has obviously been significantly affected by COVID thus far in 2020 and most probably will remain handicapped for several months to come.  We look forward to days when it will return to its new normal and meaningful trials will be help to dispense proper justice.

Post Pandemic Developments –  What Has Been Happening Since the Arrival of the Pandemic?

It is no surprise to anyone that the year 2020 was not comparable to any other year in recent history.  For this article, it wasn’t a matter of compiling the trends in the legal system or the top verdicts in the State or the best successes on the part of defense counsel.  Most of the jury verdicts in 2020 were in the months of January through March before COVID nearly shut down the Courts altogether.  For the most part, the trials that did occur were “bench trials”, trials strictly to the judges without a jury present.  Fortunately, it appears that things are beginning to normalize where with pandemic precautions, court operations are beginning to start up once again including jury trials, but pandemic accommodations are carefully being implemented.

While the plague had the Court system significantly bogged down, the Arizona Supreme Court and the Arizona District Court implemented certain administrative orders to try to keep the system going while jury trials were suspended.  The Courts also sought and identified solutions to encourage the efficient administration of justice until there could be a return to normal.  Alternate Dispute Resolution procedures, particularly Mediation, became essential to narrow and clarify issues and attempted to find improved and expedient ways to resolve cases.  This significantly reduced what otherwise would have been an insurmountable backlog which would have further traumatized the system and the administration of justice.

As a result of all of the above, the number of large verdicts in Arizona in 2020 was dramatically reduced from prior years.  As thing proceed forward and hopefully begin to normalize, it is difficult to predict what the ongoing effects of the Pandemic on Arizona juries and judicial awards will be.  The District Court of Arizona resumed jury trials in Phoenix and Tucson on March 1, and the Maricopa County Superior Court followed a month later.  In 2020 there were only four cases in which jury verdicts/awards exceed $1,000,000.00, the largest award being $4,500,000.00 in a case where an electrician sustained serious back injuries in a fall and surgery was unreasonably delayed because the insurance unreasonably delayed his spinal decompression surgery.