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Mike Myers
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The Recession and Juries–Challenges and Opportunities

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The recession is going to lead to a lot more employment cases. Not only are employees being terminated, it’s taking them a long time to find new jobs.

There are also going to be a lot more wage and hour disputes. Fortunately in Washington "control" persons are liable to employees for unpaid wages.

But there are also some uncertainties relating to the effect of the downturn–particularly for personal injury cases. A lot of pundits think that we are entering the age of "the tightfisted juror".

People are less willing to hand out high damages in times of hardship than prosperity, regardless of who has to foot the bill, because “they themselves are economically damaged,” according to trial consultant Marshall Hennington of Hennington & Associates.

“These are uncertain times, and unless you have a slam-dunk case where there is clearly negligence or liability, then people are not going to open the purse strings,” Hennington said. “People are reluctant to award big damages if they are suffering financially.”

However, the counter-argument is equally compelling. People are mad. They’re mad at the corporations that championed tort reformed and lined their pockets while jeopardizing the average person’s retirement. They’re mad at the corporations and insurance companies (like Liberty Mutual here in Seattle) that promised them job security, fed them the party line about greedy plaintiffs and jackpot justice and then fired them.

Properly channeled, juror anger can be directed, focused and turned into punitive verdicts that Washington has not seen in years if ever.

The downturn presents challenges and opportunities. It’s important to make sure that your counsel is prepared to meet these challenges and harvest the associated opportunities.