The New York Times recently reported that a Manhattan jury returned a $27.5 million verdict to a 45 year-old woman who had to have her leg amputated after a bus ran over her. While such a verdict for an amputated leg is considered high in New York City, such a personal injury damages verdict would be unthinkable in upstate New York cities such as Syracuse, Auburn, Geneva, Rochester or especially in the rural areas in between. Verdicts downstate are, by and large, much larger than upstate.
Why are verdicts in the New York City area so large compared to upstate verdicts? Good question. As far as I know, there are no studies regarding why juries downstate are so generous compared to their stingy upstate counterparts. But here’s my (unscientific) take on it:
Big city dwellers tend to be more accustomed to, and comfortable with, social safety nets. They have rent subsidies and controls. They live collectively. They expect the “system” to even the inequities of life out a little bit. Big city dwellers tend to see a personal injury verdict as a way to right a wrong, a way to balance the scales, a way to help the helpless, etc. In sum, they are SOCIALLY oriented.
Rural folks, on the other hand, generally adhere to the independent frontiersman philosophy. They tend to see personal injury verdicts as a kind of “hand-out” rather than as just compensation for harm caused by a wrongdoer. They often feel that injury victims are taking advantage of the “system” to reap an undue profit. They feel people should fend for themselves, and “tough out” any bad luck that befalls them. In sum, they are SELF-SUFFICIENCY oriented.
When you try a case in Syracuse, New York, for example, even though Syracuse is a City, jury members come from the entire County of Onondaga. You are likely to get many jury members who have the rural (self-sufficiency) mindset rather than the urban (socially conscious) mindset.
Sometimes I tell my clients that their case would be worth twice as much downstate as upstate. They are shocked. They ask, “how is it fair that I should get ½ as much as someone in New York City for the same injury?” My response is this: It’s not fair, but it’s the way it is! I also tell them that we at Michaels & Smolak have techniques we use at trial to counteract our rural juries’ “self-sufficiency” mindset, and which are more likely to produce top-dollar upstate verdicts. But I admit, any upstate verdict we get is, unfortunately, still a far cry from a downstate verdict.