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Column No. 28, June 1997
Jury Verdict Research Using The Internet
By Robert J. Ambrogi
The plaintiff claims obstetrical malpractice led to her childs cerebral palsy. The question: If she is successful in convincing the jury, what is her likely recovery?
In Sacramento, Calif., a jury March 31 awarded $18.5 million on similar facts. And in Bronx County, N.Y., a similar claim resulted in a $9.45 million award April 14.
These verdicts were found using services that report verdicts and settlements in tort cases. Such reporters are nothing new personal-injury lawyers have turned to them for decades for guidance in valuing their cases.
What is different is that these were found on the Internet, through services that cost nothing. While verdict reports traditionally come in print or are stored in proprietary databases, a handful now make the Internet their home.
What follows is a survey of verdict and settlement reporting services on the Internet. The best of these are sites that publish full case reports online and offer them at no cost to the user. Next come sites that publish full reports, but charge some form of access fee. Last come sites that offer little or no content, serving merely as advertisements for off-line products.
Also reviewed are sites where law firms report their own successful verdicts and settlements.
Reports For Free
Probably the most comprehensive, free source of trial reports on the Internet is the Verdicts and Settlements Database of Law Journal EXTRA!, http://www.ljextra.com/cgi-bin/vds. It contains all reports published since 1994 on the verdicts and settlements page of the National Law Journal, and is fully searchable using key words. The database is national in scope and, according to LJX Editor Al Robbins, should contain reports from throughout the U.S.
Plans are underway for the New York Law Journal, sister to the NLJ, to offer a similar database of New York verdicts and settlements on its Web site, http://www.nylj.com. The NYLJ recently began publishing these reports in its print edition, collected independently from those in the NLJ. Ed Adams, NYLJ online editor, confirms that plans are underway to publish these reports on the Web, although undecided is when and whether to restrict access to subscribers.
After Law Journal EXTRA!, MoreLaw, http://www.morelaw.com, is the only Web service with free, nationwide verdict and settlement reports. It covers all states and the District of Columbia, and has verdicts since December 1996. For any given state, the number of reports ranges from only a handful for the entire period to several a month.
Unique to MoreLaw is that trial reports are linked to the e-mail addresses or Web sites of the participating attorneys. Publisher Kent Morlan, a lawyer in Tulsa, Okla., obtains the reports in various ways, canvassing local courts, receiving submissions from lawyers, and culling verdicts from newspaper reports and other sources.
The sites most serious flaw is the lack of a search engine a significant omission on a site of this nature. Cases are listed by state and then, within each state, by date.
Other sites with free trial reports are more limited, mostly offering only a few reports and tending to focus on a particular jurisdiction or topic.
For example, the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association, http://philatla.org, publishes its monthly newsletter, The Verdict, online. Each months issue includes 2-3 reports of notable verdicts or settlements. Each report includes a description of the facts and injuries, and provides the court, the judge, the outcome, the lawyers, and the experts. Issues since February 1996 are available.
The Cobb County (Georgia) Bar Association began offering verdicts and settlements involving local lawyers on its Web site in May 1995, http://www.kuesterlaw.com/cobb. As with PTLA, the reports were part of its monthly newsletter. But only a couple issues of the newsletter contained case reports, and no new issues have appeared online for some time. Jeff Kuester, a lawyer who helped set up the site, told legal.online that upkeep fell behind due to reliance on volunteers, but that it would be resuming soon.
The Doctors Reference Library of the New Jersey Optometric Association, http://www.eyecare.org/legal/leglmain.html, includes a feature, "Eye On Medicine," devoted to chronicling ophthalmologic malpractice in New Jersey. Among other things, it lists and describes recent verdicts against N.J. ophthalmologists.
For a peek at verdicts in various fields, try Lewis Laska Legal Newsletters, http://www.martek.net/laska. Laska publishes Medical Malpractice Verdicts, Settlements and Experts, National Products Liability Database Report, Tennessee Litigation Reporter, and other titles. His site includes samples of actual reports from current issues.
Reports For A Fee
Other reliable and comprehensive sources of trial reports are on the Internet, but you will have to pay to use them, with prices ranging from $4.95 for a single report to $1,500 and up for a years subscription.
To track verdicts and settlements in a particular specialty area, try BNAs Web service, "Newstand on the Web," http://www.bna.com/newsstand/index.html, through which BNA offers the full text of more than 30 current-notification publications. A number of them report on, among other things, current verdicts and settlements within the covered field. Among titles containing trial reports: Employment Discrimination Report, Product Safety & Liability Reporter, and Toxics Law Reporter. These come at a fairly steep price, by Internet standards the minimum annual subscription per publication is $1,500, which allows up to five users. However, any of the services can be tried free for 30 days by registering at the Web site.
Lawyers Weekly Publications, http://www.lweekly.com, prints trial reports in its national newspaper, Lawyers Weekly USA, and in state newspapers in Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Virginia, Rhode Island and Ohio. From LWPs Web site, you can search archives containing the full-text of these newspapers, including trial reports. Searching is free, but if your search turns up an article you want, you can see the full text only by paying $4.95 ($1.95 if you are a subscriber). There is no way to limit searches to trial reports, but tips are offered to help you formulate as precise a search as possible. Also, the list of items retrieved in response to a search labels trial reports as such.
For trials in Texas and Louisiana, The Blue Sheet, http://www.bluesheet.com, combines limited, free listings of notable verdicts and settlements with a fee-based, searchable, Internet-accessible database containing some 25,000 reports. The Blue Sheet has combined reports from its seven print periodicals into a single database, to which it adds 400-500 cases per month.
Access to the database requires a $420 sign-up fee plus a monthly subscription of $40. In addition, for each case accessed, there is a charge of $3. From the Web site, you can try a free, limited demonstration of the database.
Sites For Offline Reporters
The bulk of the trial reporting services are print periodicals, usually covering a particular jurisdiction. Some also maintain proprietary computer databases, requiring customers to phone in a search request and receive the results by fax or "snail-mail." Although these services do not publish reports on the Internet, many have set up Web sites that describe their content, list their prices, and offer contact information.
To find a reporter for a particular jurisdiction, start with the National Association of State Jury Verdict Publishers, http://www.juryverdicts.com, an organization of two dozen independent reporters scattered across the U.S. The page has a map of the U.S. showing jurisdictions covered by its members 29 publications. Click on one to go to a page providing information about the particular publication. Many pages include sample trial reports, and several have forms allowing you to request a sample issue.
Other reporters with Web sites include:
Deep Data Investigative Sources, http://www.deepdata.com. Nationwide jury-verdict searching for $25 per search. Order searches online and receive results within 24 hours.
Expert Search, http://www.expertsearch.com. For reports involving a particular expert, try this service from JAS Publications, covering Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Search free for an expert to determine if he/she appeared in any report JAS published during the last 10 years. If so, have the report faxed to you at a cost of $45 for a single report or a maximum of $125 for three or more reports involving the same expert.
Jury Verdict Review and Analysis, http://www.jvr.com, publishes a national reporter; regional reporters covering Florida, New England, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania; and a medical reporter.
Law Bulletin Publishing Co., http://www.lawbulletin.com. This Chicago company publishes the weekly Cook County Jury Verdict Reporter and the monthly Illinois Jury Verdict Reporter. The Web site offers a half-dozen sample reports as well as a form to register for a complimentary print copy.
LRP Publications, http://www.lrp.com, publishes the Jury Verdict Research database on CD-ROM, with more than 100,000 verdicts from across the nation. It also publishes a Pennsylvania reporter. The Web site has product descriptions and prices.
Mealeys Litigation Reports, http://www.mealeys.com, publishes a number of targeted reporters, covering such topics as asbestos, breast implants, lead paint, tobacco and toxic torts. Its Web site has descriptions of products and full-text samples of some.
Moran Publishing Inc., http://www.moranlaw.com. This New York verdict reporter features "Verdictsearch" allowing online ordering of searches of some 20,000 published cases. Name searches cost $95 and injury searches are $165.
Professional Liability Newsletter, http://www.jfed.org/liablty.htm. General information about this California medical malpractice reporter.
Soeles Texas Reporter, http://www.texasreporter.com, lists counties covered and has an e-mail form for subscribing.
Trials Digest, http://www.trialsdigest.com. This California reporters Web site offers useful features: read descriptions of recent, notable cases, then order the full report by e-mail; review a county-by-county list of verdict types and amounts; or scan a list of experts for whom trial reports or deposition transcripts can be purchased.
Verdict Reporter Inc., http://www.verdictreporter.com. General information bout this reporter, covering Missouri and Illinois.
Law Firm Reports
A final source of trial reports on the Internet are lawyers themselves, some of whom have begun posting reports to their Web sites. Among these are:
Breakstone, White-Lief & Gluck, http://bwglaw.com, a Boston personal-injury firm.
Construction Defects, http://www.constructiondefects.com/2ml.ver.set.html. Web site of the California Law Offices of Thomas E. Miller.
The DentaLaw Group, http://www.dentalaw.com, a multi-state consortium of dental-malpractice lawyers.
Kussman & Whitehill, http://www.lawinfo.com/forum/kussman, a Los Angeles personal-injury firm.
Robert J. Ambrogi, a lawyer in Rockport, Mass., is editor of legal.online, a monthly newsletter about the Internet (http://www.legalonline.com). He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (978) 546-7898.