For years, jury verdicts in Western Pennsylvania have been consistently low. Though jury verdicts on the eastern side of Pennsylvania were consistently increasing, Pittsburgh and the surrounding counties did not follow this trend. For example, $10 million dollar verdicts in personal injury cases were unheard of in Allegheny County until a few years ago.
Lawyers would often tell their clients, “you may have a great case in Philadelphia, but Allegheny County juries are different”. Insurance companies would routinely pressure injured victims into low settlements, knowing that even if liability is clear, juries in Pittsburgh simply do not give high verdicts.
As a result, injured victims of personal injury were often motivated to settle for much less than the true value of their case. Insurance companies seemingly had an advantage in settlement negotiations.
While it is still true that juries in Allegheny County are more conservative than in Philadelphia, recent verdicts seem to suggest times might be changing.
In December 2012, an Allegheny County jury awarded $109 million dollars to the family in a wrongful death case. The verdict included $61 million dollars in punitive damages. It was the highest jury verdict in the history of Allegheny County. The previous record for an Allegheny County verdict was $106.1 million dollars in 2011, but was for a contract action, not a personal injury case.
What is interesting about the $109 million dollar verdict, and what most people do not know, is that the defendants insurance company allegedly reneged on a $50 million dollar settlement while the jury was deliberating. Clearly the insurance company did not value the case anywhere close to what the jury verdict ended up being.
Then, in November 2013, an Allegheny County jury awarded $28 million dollars to victims of a deadly car crash. The insurance company allegedly offered a $1.5 million dollar “take it or leave it” offer to the family while the jury was deliberating. The jury returned shortly thereafter.
Other recent jury verdicts in Allegheny County also show an increase in compensation being awarded to injured victims and their families.
In 2010, a verdict was issued against Consol Energy, Inc. for $7.8 million dollars for a negligence case. In 2011, a $10 million dollar jury verdict was issued against UPMC Shadyside for medical malpractice.
Whether this trend will continue remains to be seen. But already this year, a south side bar settled for $15.6 million dollars in a wrongful death case before going to trial.
Though insurance companies still seem to be undervaluing these cases (as evidenced by the settlement offers significantly lower than the verdicts ultimately rendered), these high verdicts may start changing the perspective of these insurance companies moving forward. Ultimately, this would help provide victims and their families in Allegheny County with more leverage in obtaining fair compensation for injuries they have suffered.