The Alabama Supreme Court reversed verdicts for the plaintiff in 72% of the cases it decided during the last 10 years. A recent study of court decisions revealed this troubling fact. Really, were almost 3/4 of the plaintiff’s verdicts wrong?
I have a problem with a percentage that huge. My problem is simple — civil cases that lack merit rarely, if ever, make it that far. By the time a case reaches an appeal, the plaintiff has survived countless pre-trial motions testing the claim. After these, comes the trial. In Alabama, a plaintiff only wins a civil trial if the verdict is unanimous. All 12 jurors must agree. Then, you still aren’t finished. If the plaintiff wins the trial, he will likely face numerous post-trial motions.
If the Alabama Supreme Court is correct and 3/4 of those verdicts were bad, then the problem lies with the trial courts and juries. But, I don’t think it does. In North Alabama, we are fortunate to have many excellent trial judges. They work tirelessly to review the cases before them. In addition, the citizens who serve on our juries care deeply about getting to the truth and making the correct decision. I’ve sat in the courtroom after closing arguments and waited while jurors carefully considered and discussed every piece of evidence in order to make the right decision. I believe our jurors care deeply about making the right decision. And, I believe that most of the time the local judges and jurors get it right.
What does concern me are our appellate courts in Montgomery. The combination of huge election contributions from groups that may not be interested in fair justice, the partisanship of current elections, and a tendency to issue opinions without written decisions explaining them, all cast a shadow over our appellate courts. Whether their decisions were correct or not, it’s time to address some of the issues that call our appellate courts into question.