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Kansas City Area Saw Increase in Defense Verdicts in 2019, According to Annual Jury Data

ABSTRACT: The data is out on Kansas City area jury verdicts for calendar year 2019, and it contains mostly good news for defendants. While the total number of jury verdicts was up slightly from 2018, the percentage of those verdicts in plaintiffs' favor was down, with nearly 60% of claims that went to a jury ending in a defense verdict.  2019 also saw a drop of almost 30% in the number of verdicts over $1 million.  Although the data shows a rise in the average verdict amount, that increase is entirely attributable to a single mega verdict of more than $100 million; controlling for that outlier, the size of the average award was also down significantly.

Data released by the Greater Kansas City Jury Verdict Service about jury trials in 2019 shows that results are broadly trending in favor of defendants. Defendants prevailed on almost 60% of the claims decided by KC-area juries last year, representing an improvement over their win rate in 2018. Calendar year 2019 also saw a drop of nearly 30% in the number of verdicts over $1,000,000, despite a modest increase in the total number of claims decided by juries. 

Defendants Are Trying More Claims & Winning More Often

86 different juries in the Kansas City area decided a total of 181 claims in 2019 (with some cases involving multiple claims). 75 of those 181 verdicts (41%) resulted in some amount of recovery to the plaintiff(s), while 106 (59%) ended in defense verdicts.

Compared to 2018, this represents an increase of about 8% in the total number of verdicts handed down. Despite taking more claims to juries, defendants’ win rate improved by about 7% from the prior year, when roughly 52% of jury verdicts were for the defendant(s). This continues a trend from 2017, when defendants won roughly 51% of jury verdicts. From 2014-2016, plaintiffs’ win rate had been on the rise.


Big Verdicts Continue to Fall

The data contained other encouraging news for KC-area defendants and defense attorneys. When juries did award damages last year, the figures were generally smaller than they have been in recent years. 

Last year saw 10 only verdicts of $1,000,000 or more in the Kansas City area, compared to 14 in 2018—a decrease of roughly 29%. In terms of percentages of all verdicts, million-dollar awards fell from 8.3% in 2018 to 5.5% in 2019. The proportion of six-figure jury awards held steady at about 17% (31 out of 181 verdicts in 2019, compared to 29 out of 168 in 2018). Awards of less than $100,000 accounted for about 19% of all verdicts in 2019. 


Although the Average Amount Awarded Increased, Initial Impressions are Misleading

Although the value of the average plaintiffs’ verdicts grew by almost 25% ($2.26 million in 2019, compared to $1.81 million in 2018), a closer examination reveals that figure to be fundamentally misleading; the increase is entirely attributable to a single verdict of nearly $118 million handed down in a federal-court commercial dispute. While 2018 also had just one very large verdict, 2019’s outlier was roughly $42 million more than the 2018’s ($76 million). When each year’s lone outlier is set aside, the average amount awarded fell by 22%, from roughly $882,500 in 2018 to about $692,000 in 2019.

Keep in mind, too, that the figures above include only claims in which the verdict resulted in some amount of recovery for the plaintiff(s). When defense verdicts are factored into the equation, the average result for all claims decided by area juries in 2019 was an award of $934,000, compared to $873,000 in 2018 (a 7% increase). Once again setting aside each year’s single highest verdict, the average award for all claims decided by area juries in 2019 drops to just $284,624, compared to $423,150 in 2018 (a 32% decrease).

Juries in Missouri State Courts Prove Most Generous

State courts awarded 7 of the 10 million-dollar verdicts in 2019, most of which originated on the Missouri side of the state line: 4 in Jackson County, MO (Kansas City); 1 in Clay County, MO; 1 in Platte County, MO; 1 in Johnson County, KS; 2 in Missouri federal court (W.D. Mo.); and 1 in Kansas federal court (D. Kan.).

Of the 31 six-figure verdicts in the Kansas City area in 2019, 19 came from Jackson County, Missouri—7 in Kansas City and 12 in Independence. The remaining 12 were spread among Clay County, MO (5); Missouri federal court (W.D. Mo.) (3); Johnson County, KS (2); and Kansas federal court (2).

This tracks with the general feeling among local practitioners that Jackson County is by far the most plaintiff-friendly venue in the area, and that state courts tend to hand out bigger verdicts than federal courts.