Nuclear verdicts are on the rise, with damaging consequences for businesses, consumers, and the rule of law. Nuclear Verdicts: Trends, Causes, and Solutions examines 1,376 nuclear verdicts (jury verdicts worth $10 million or more) in state and federal courts from 2010–2019. The report shows that these verdicts grew significantly in frequency and size in the 2010–2019 study period, with the median verdict rising from $19.3 million in 2010 to $24.6 million in 2019. That’s a 27.5% increase, far outstripping inflation of 17.2% over the same period.
ILR’s research dives into the factors driving this trend, looking at different case types behind these verdicts and their variation across the states. Among other findings, the paper shows that:
- Florida, California, and New York produced the most nuclear verdicts in the study period, with a combined 575 verdicts worth over $10 million;
- Noneconomic damages are typically the largest component of a nuclear verdict—in fact, in six out of 10 years in the study period, the total amount of noneconomic damages in nuclear verdicts exceeded total economic and punitive damages combined; and
- Nuclear verdicts were most frequent in product liability (23.6% of the total), auto accident (22.8%), and medical liability (20.6%) cases.
Our paper makes the point that because of their massive size and unpredictability, nuclear verdicts can threaten the existence of a defendant business, raise costs for consumers, and prolong litigation by virtually guaranteeing an extensive cycle of appeals. We conclude by offering a series of solutions that legislators and courts can employ to fix system flaws and curb exploitative plaintiffs’ lawyer tactics that contribute to this trend.