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Journal of Empirical Legal Studies






Legal scholars, legislators, policy advocates, and the news media frequently use jury verdicts to draw conclusions about the performance of the tort system. However, actual payouts can differ greatly from verdicts. We report evidence on post-verdict payouts from the most comprehensive longitudinal study of matched jury verdicts and payouts. Using data on all insured medical malpractice claims in Texas from 1988–2003 in which the plaintiff received at least $25,000 (in 1988 dollars) following a jury trial, we find that most jury awards received “haircuts.” Seventy-five percent of plaintiffs received a payout less than the adjusted verdict (jury verdict plus prejudgment and postjudgment interest), 20 percent received the adjusted verdict (within ± 2 percent), and 5 percent received more than the adjusted verdict. Overall, plaintiffs received a mean (median) per-case haircut of 29 percent (19 percent), and an aggregate haircut of 56 percent, relative to the adjusted verdict. The larger the verdict, the more likely and larger the haircut. For cases with a positive adjusted verdict under $100,000, 47 percent of plaintiffs received a haircut, with a mean (median) per-case haircut of 8 percent (2 percent). For cases with an adjusted verdict larger than $2.5 million, 98 percent of plaintiffs received a haircut with a mean (median) per-case haircut of 56 percent (61 percent). Insurance policy limits are the most important factor in explaining haircuts. Caps on damages in death cases and caps on punitive damages are also important, but defendants often paid substantially less than the adjusted allowed verdict. Remittitur accounts for a small percentage of the haircuts. Punitive damage awards have only a small effect on payouts. Out-of-pocket payments by physicians are rare, never large, and usually unrelated to punitive damage awards. Most cases settle, presumably in the shadow of the outcome if the case were to be tried. That outcome is not the jury award, but the actual post-verdict payout. Because defendants rarely pay what juries award, jury verdicts alone do not provide a sufficient basis for claims about the performance of the tort system.

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John Wiley & Sons, Ltd

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