With special interest I read Connecticut Superior Court Justice Robert Satter's article (Editorial Pages, May 28), "How To Keep Damage-Award Jurors From Going Wild." Among prudent, responsible citizens I think his suggestions could work very well.
Last spring I was called to serve as a juror in Los Angeles Superior Court involving a "pain and suffering" suit against a tardily paying insurance company, which had carried the policy of a man who rear-ended the plaintiffs. The suit was not for medical reimbursement, which had already been awarded in a prior suit against this insurance company, but to take advantage of new "consumer" legislation just passed to ensure that insurance companies liable for damages pay promptly.
The plaintiff's attorney in explaining to prospective jurors about the suit mentioned that the amount being asked for was in "seven figures," although he had said earlier the plaintiffs were willing to settle originally for about $10,000.
At lunchtime that day, before the full selection of jurors had been made, a smartly dressed woman who worked as a statistician for one of the large stock brokerage firms in the city and who had already been selected as a juror, remarked that "those insurance companies can afford to pay! Look at all the big buildings they own. . . . "
Ultimately, I was not selected to serve, as were about 40 others, but I wondered how that case would turn out if there were other such free-wheeling spenders on the jury. A month later The Times reported the jury had awarded the two plaintiffs (and their attorney) $7.5 million.
Aside from the ripples of shock that must have coursed through \o7 all\f7 insurance corporate officers, which as a lesson it was designed to do, it shocked me too! I'm no special admirer of insurance companies, but I want to be able to buy insurance myself and I'm finding some liability policies are no longer available to individuals, or if they are, the premiums are prohibitive. I wonder if those jurors understood that insurance companies exist on the premiums charged insurance users, that premiums are based on insurance losses, that the buildings insurance companies occupy are sometimes leased and if not, the equity is an investment to underpin the company's solvency? That companies are responsible for the mistakes of their employees? That overkill jury awards don't slay dragons, they destroy consumer options and services, sometimes even businesses and jobs of the innocent.
San Luis Obispo