Delco Dominates Large Suburban Verdicts and Settlements

, The Legal Intelligencer

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Thomas R. Kline

The top five dollar amounts in Delaware, Bucks and Chester counties were composed mostly of verdicts from a variety of cases, while in Montgomery, they were mostly settlements. The cases from which the amounts stemmed were varied between litigation ranging from breach of contract to personal injury to products liability.

However, medical malpractice was the most frequent cause of action.

Alan Feldman of Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock & Dodig in Philadelphia stressed the notion that traditionally, the suburban counties have been tough places to secure a plaintiffs victory, especially in medical malpractice cases.

"The trend in terms of verdicts has been very disappointing; the counties have a disproportionate number of defense verdicts in favor of doctors and hospitals," Feldman said. "The juries are different than they are in Philadelphia; they're more conventional, have more conservative values, and they're friendlier to health care providers. They are stingier when it comes to making awards."

Feldman noted that amounts assigned to verdicts and settlements have increased over the past 20 years in cases where serious injuries are involved mostly because of increasing life care costs.

Two decades ago, a jury might have returned a verdict of $4 million to $5 million in a serious injury or malpractice case that required lifelong care, according to Feldman, whereas now that number might be closer to $30 million to $40 million.

"Because care costs have risen so much over the years, verdicts and settlements have risen involving significantly impaired individuals," Feldman said.

Kline said that according to data collected by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, few cases are tried to verdicts in the counties. The number of defense verdicts from cases tried to verdict, according to Kline, is "overwhelming."

However, Kline said that he believed that a good liability case can be won in any of the counties, especially given the shift in jury attitudes.

"Having appeared in every one of these counties the general impression I received ... is that juries have appeared to me, in profile, to be more open-minded and middle-of-the-road than archconservative and against a person who's bringing a claim to court," Kline said.

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