The following sentence recently was added to a Massachusetts statute: “In civil actions in the superior court, parties, through their counsel, may suggest a specific monetary amount for damages at trial.”
Previously, in personal injury cases, juries were only presented with monetary amounts or such special damages as medical expenses and lost earning capacity. A jury could not be guided as to what amount, if any, should be awarded for such intangible damages as pain and suffering, disfigurement and loss of companionship. In closing arguments, plaintiffs’ attorneys typically would list the special damages and then tell the jury to use “common sense” in arriving at a total award.
The new latitude given plaintiffs’ attorneys by the revised statute raises questions: to what extent will attorneys overreach by requesting an unreasonably high sum; will juries be aggravated by requests for inflated dollar amounts and award lower amounts; will plaintiffs be required to disclose the dollar amount of requests during discovery or before closing arguments to defense counsel; how and under what circumstances should defense counsel respond, if at all, to monetary requests?
These questions cannot be answered until a sufficient number of cases are tried under the new statute. Relative to juries in other states, Massachusetts juries typically have been conservative in the number and amount of awards to plaintiffs. By itself, this change initially may not cause significant or consistent change in jury behavior and awards, but no doubt outlier cases and awards will occur. Whether their number will snowball and cause a sea change in the legal landscape is yet to be seen.
With our extensive jury trial experience, we at Harris & Associates, P.C. know how to both present and defend damage claims before juries. Given the uncertainties inherent in the trial process, rely on experienced counsel to best represent your interests.