A jury awards $11.5 million to the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit following a freeway accident. Just months prior, another jury in the same venue returns a $7.3 million verdict to the family of a bus driver killed while refueling on the side of the road. California has long been known for large jury verdicts. But these recent trial results are not from Los Angeles or San Francisco. Both are from the Fresno County Superior Court, located in the center of California's agricultural heartland, long believed to be a conservative bastion where plaintiffs had difficulty convincing juries to return large verdicts.
That perception began to change in late 2007 when a Fresno County jury returned a $19.1 million verdict in favor of a former Fresno State University women's basketball coach who sued the university for gender discrimination. That verdict came shortly after another coach obtained a $5.85 million award from the university after claiming that she had been retaliated against for speaking out about gender discrimination on campus. These verdicts were the largest ever returned against the California State University system for claims of this type.
These large jury verdicts are, at least in part, the result of changing demographics in the Central Valley. Understanding these changes and the impact they have on the composition of local juries is important both to those arguing cases in this geographic area and to risk management professionals assessing the potential value of these claims.