Verdict and Settlement Databases – Your Tools for Evaluating Cases

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While extremely valuable for researching legal doctrines and precedential authorities, cases only paint a partial picture of existing law on a legal topic. Verdict and settlement databases fill in the picture and provide a gateway to outcomes and damage awards in cases where judges never issued formal opinions. Although lawyers cannot guarantee results or predict monetary awards with exact certainty, jury verdicts and settlements can help lawyers evaluate the legal and monetary potential of new cases before deciding whether or not to take them. Verdicts and settlements can also assist lawyers in either preparing and making settlement demands or reviewing them closer to trial. They can also help lawyers evaluate opposing counsel, including the types of cases they take, what they win and lose, and how they settle cases before trial. Prior verdicts and settlements that discuss a particular injury or cause of action may also reveal the names of expert witnesses lawyers may want to retain, have to depose, or are forced to cross-examine or discredit at trial.

Verdict and settlement databases have traditionally relied on voluntary reporting by lawyers who are proud of favorable results in their cases. More recently, some vendors of these services have begun sending reporters to local courthouses to collect information about important cases that are tried or settled. Verdicts are naturally easier to find than settlements, which are frequently protected by nondisclosure or confidentiality agreements.

For lawyers who have never used a verdict or settlement database, a typical verdict or settlement report is usually a page long. Each report usually contains a case caption, the date, the applicable jurisdiction, the type of case (e.g., personal injury, employment discrimination), a summary of the case facts and legal issues, damage awards, case counsel, and experts where applicable. Some reports provide very general information, whereas others contain details about injuries, demands and offers, types of damages (e.g., compensatory, punitive, specials), individual party awards, evidentiary issues, and jury deliberations.

Although there are still a few print resources available for finding verdicts and settlements, databases are substantially easier and much more efficient to use. Lawyers can search Westlaw, Lexis or both to find national, state or federal jury verdicts. Between them, these two vendors cover most of the national reporters, such as ALM Media, Inc., Jury Verdict Review Publications, Inc., LRP and Mealey’s Publications, Inc., as well as many local reporters, such as The Ohio Trial Reporter. These vendors are also gradually migrating subscribers from their .com platforms to their new flagship products, WestlawNext and Lexis Advance. Gone are the days of being forced to choose a jurisdiction or database before creating a search query. These new products both offer more user-friendly interfaces and encourage searchers to start by entering facts and legal facts in a single search box at the top. Searchers can then filter search results afterward by various criteria, including jurisdiction, court, date, practice area or topic, attorney or law firm, judge, or additional keywords. WestlawNext also allows filtering by damage range, and Lexis Advance allows filtering by particular verdict reporter. Both services also allow searchers to save, print, download and email search results for further analysis later.

While these search engines offer premium search capabilities, there are several other options lawyers might want to explore. Three Web-based search alternatives with a national perspective include Verdict- Search.com, Law.com and MoreLaw.com. VerdictSearch.com is a subscription service provided by ALM that covers approximately 180,000 nationwide verdicts and settlements, including reports from Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton counties in Ohio. VerdictSearch is searchable by keyword, state, court, county, type of injury, type of case, award type and date range. Law.com is another subscription service from ALM that reports nationwide jury verdicts and settlements in high-profile cases. MoreLaw.com is a free Internet search engine for approximately 40,000 civil trial and appellate cases back to 1996.

In addition to these resources, there are also more local options. Ohio lawyers who are members of the Ohio State Bar Association have access to Casemaker, where they can browse or search verdicts and settlements in the Ohio Trial Reporter from 1976-2010. For a particularly local perspective, Cleveland area attorneys can subscribe to the Justice Center Reporter, an independent publication that reports civil jury verdicts that are rendered in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

Legal newspapers and journals can also be good sources of current verdict and settlement information. One Web-based subscription service some lawyers use is a California company called Courthouse News Service which sends its reporters all over the country to cover cases from start to finish. Topical legal blogs can also be great sources of new cases, as can lawyer and firm websites that summarize their victories or track cases of importance on a particular legal topic. Kathleen M. Dugan 

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