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Recap of 2014 Jury Verdicts in Greater Kansas City Area

March 6, 2015

The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the jury verdicts rendered in 2014 throughout the greater Kansas City metropolitan area which were reported by the Greater Kansas City Jury Verdict Service.[i]

Considerations for Comparison of Jury Verdicts in the Kansas City Area

When comparing jury verdicts rendered in the greater Kansas City area, it should be noted that significant differences between Kansas law and Missouri law can shape the outcome.  For instance, in Kansas, the jury determines whether punitive damages should be awarded, but the Court actually sets the amount at a later date.  Therefore, any punitive damages amounts ultimately set by the Court are not reflected in the totals reported by the Greater Kansas City Jury Verdict Service.  Contrastingly, in Missouri, the jury determines the amount of punitive damages.  Therefore, such amounts are included in the reported totals.

Another example of situations in which the differences between Kansas law and Missouri law impact the verdicts reported is considering how each state applies principles of comparative fault.  In Kansas, a plaintiff recovers nothing if the plaintiff’s fault is found to be 50% or higher, and thus, such situations are reported as defense verdicts.  In Missouri, plaintiffs can make a recovery if a defendant is found to bear any percentage of fault.

Plaintiff Verdicts in 2014

Over the last several years there has been a trend toward an increase in defense verdicts.  That trend appears to have continued in 2014.  However, the number of high verdicts (those over a million dollars) while increasing over 2013 remained below the level of 20122014 brought a slight increase, over 2013, in the number of cases, or trials, reported in the Jury Verdict Service in the greater Kansas City area.  There were a total of 133 cases reported (122 in 2013).  Cases may consist of multiple claims with multiple verdicts, and of the 133 reported cases, 255 verdicts for claims were reported in 2014 (193 in 2013).  Of the 255 verdicts for claims, 98 were for the Plaintiff (38%).  The overall average of plaintiff’s verdicts was $350,730 in 2014 which was much lower than 2013’s average of $5,577,689.  However, the 2013 average was skewed by a $400,000,000 verdict and a $10,000,000 verdict.  In 2014, there were 10 verdicts of $1,000,000 or more compared to only 5 in 2013.

Seven-Digit Verdicts

The number of seven-digit verdicts somewhat evened out in comparison to the last two (2) years, and there were 10 verdicts of $1,000,000 or more in 2014 (compared to only 5 in 2013, but 19 in 2012).  Of those 10 verdicts, 2 were in Jackson County, MO (1 in Kansas City, MO and 1 in Independence, MO), while 3 were Wyandotte County, KS (located in Kansas City, KS) and 2 were in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.  The remaining 3 verdicts were 1 each in the Missouri counties of Platte and Clay, and 1 in Johnson County, Kansas.

Six-Digit Verdicts

The number of six-digit verdicts was similar to the past two (2) years, with 2014 having 27 verdicts of $100,000 or greater (33 in 2013; 20 in 2012).  Of the 27 verdicts, a majority (17) were rendered by Missouri Courts (16 state Circuit Courts and 1 in the U.S. Dist. Court for the Western District of MO).

Type of Case

Remaining mindful of the considerations for comparison of jury verdicts in the greater Kansas City area, the percentage of plaintiff verdicts varied greatly depending on the type of case.  In 2014, there were a total 41 claims in automobile[ii] cases, with plaintiff verdicts returned in 28 of them (68.3%).  However, employment[iii] law cases resulted in a plaintiff verdict only 35.6% of the time (16 out of 45).   Interestingly, albeit a small sample size, cases bringing claims under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act resulted in plaintiff verdicts 54.5% of the time (6 out of 11; 50% on claims under the act and 60% [3 out of 5] on claims for punitive damages).  Not surprisingly, plaintiff verdicts in medical malpractice, medical malpractice-wrongful death, and medical negligence cases were quite uncommon, occurring only once out of 11 claims which went to trial.

The outcomes of additional types of cases of interest were as follows:

Type of Case Claims Plaintiff

Verdict

% for Plaintiff
General Breach of Contract 16 8 50%
Breach of Fiduciary Duty 4 3 75%
Breach of Fiduciary Duty (Punitives) 2 1 50%
Breach of Insurance Contract 3 1 33.3%
Excessive Force in Arrest 5 0 0%
Governmental Liability 6 4 67%
Products Liability 1 0 0%
Tortious Interference 4 0 0%
Vexatious Refusal to Pay 2 1 50%

Conclusion

Some general takeaways include that while defense verdicts in the Kansas City area have increased over the past several years, as indicated by the 2014 jury verdict statistics, this may in part be due to the type of cases being tried.  Cases going to trial may have moved away from tort based claims (i.e. traditional personal injury cases) to non-tort based claims such as breach of contract and employment cases.   Further while Kansas continues to be a defense friendly venue verdict amounts may be increasing.

Knowledge of previous verdicts in similar type cases can prove to be an important part in valuing current cases and claims.  It is important to consider not only the specific venue in which the case may be tried, but also how juries in a particular venue responded to a particular type of claim.  Coronado Katz LLC handles jury trials encompassing all types of claims in all venues located within the greater Kansas City metropolitan area, as well as across the entirety of Kansas and Missouri.

Steven F. Coronado and Lawrence E. Nordling      

[i]  Summary and Statistics of Jury Verdicts Reported During The Year 2014 By The Greater Kansas City Jury Verdict Service, Greater Kansas City Jury Verdict Service, published January, 18, 2015.

[ii] An “automobile” case would include cases involving claims of: injury to a passenger; defendant violated right-of-way; minor impact soft tissue injury; lane change; loss of service – auto; object falling from vehicle; plaintiff hit from rear; plaintiff as a motorcyclist or bicyclist; plaintiff violated right-of-way; property damage only; or uninsured/underinsured motorist claims.

[iii] An “employment law” case would include cases involving claims of:  discrimination; retaliation; or retaliatory discharge, including separate punitive damage claims for each of those types of claims.

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