Trump faced a jury pool 'notorious' for huge damages before settling a lawsuit brought by protesters, experts say

Trump faced a jury pool 'notorious' for huge damages before settling a lawsuit brought by protesters, experts say
Donald Trump arrives to a press event to announce his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015 in New York City. He made derogatory remarks about Mexicans.Christopher Gregory/Getty Images
  • Donald Trump's lawyers settled a lawsuit brought by protesters at the 11th hour.
  • He was facing Bronx jurors "notorious" for awarding high damages, experts say.

When Donald Trump first ran for president, the legal problems started piling up early.

Not long after he descended his Trump Tower escalator, he was sued by a group of protesters in September 2015, who alleged his security team beat them that month as they demonstrated against his racist comments about Mexicans on the sidewalk outside Trump Tower.

The case slowly made its way through the courts during Trump's presidency, before barreling toward a trial that was supposed to take place this month.

But in the middle of jury selection, the parties suddenly settled the case.

While lawyers for both sides quickly put out statements expressing their satisfaction at the settlement, experts told Insider that Trump may have been under more pressure to settle. He faced a likely hostile jury pool notorious for awarding high damages compared to juries in Manhattan or Long Island.


The trial was to take place in a state court in the Bronx, a borough comprised largely of working-class people of color. Less than 16% of Bronx voters chose Trump in the 2020 election, and experts told Insider that jurors for trials that take place in the borough aren't reticent about awarding large numbers in damages against wealthy people and corporations.

"If they went to trial, who knows what the award could have been? It could have been millions of dollars for an injury that's worth $10,000," Edward Capozzi, a personal injury attorney at Brach Eichler LLC, told Insider.

Attorneys representing Trump, his presidential campaign, his company, and his security team in the case didn't reply to requests for comment.

'A venue that's not too kind to Donald Trump'

The actual damages a jury would award if they found Trump's side liable is impossible to predict, experts told Insider.

A video filed to court as part of the case appears to show one of Trump's security team members punching one protester in the face. Other still images appear to show a protester grabbing a security team member, suggesting Trump's lawyers may have argued he was acting in self-defense. Medical records for the plaintiffs remain under seal.


It isn't unusual to settle a lawsuit in the middle of jury selection, Capozzi said. At that stage, the parties have run out of time to negotiate. There's a good chance they'd prefer to button up a case instead of staring down the costs of a trial and potentially years of appeals.

"When you get in the courtroom and start picking the jury, now both sides have guns to their heads," he said. "There's no more time to delay."

Trump faced a jury pool 'notorious' for huge damages before settling a lawsuit brought by protesters, experts say
Former U.S. President Donald Trump's lawyer Alina Habba leaves Trump Tower to meet with New York Attorney General Letitia James for a civil investigation on August 10, 2022 in New York City.James Devaney/GC Images

At the time the verdict was reached, 11 out of 12 jurors were already picked. Most of them were women and people of color. Trump's side may have wagered that going to trial wasn't worth the risk.

"It's a high-profile case in a venue that's not too kind to Donald Trump," Marc Battipaglia, a personal injury and civil rights attorney at the law firm Rubenstein & Rynecki, told Insider. "I'm sure that was a factor in the settlement."

Avoiding a trial also means avoiding the legal fees that would come with it. Battipaglia analyzed the case's public docket and estimated that the defense had already spent $50,000 to $150,000 on the case, compared to between $7,500 to $30,000 for the plaintiffs' lawyers.


At trial, the fees would continue to balloon as the attorneys spent long hours on the case and spent hundreds of dollars per hour for experts to testify about the protesters' alleged injuries. Battipaglia believes the defense would spend another $50,000 to $100,000 if the case had gone to trial. Plaintiff lawyers in cases like this, however, often work on a contingency basis, where they get paid only if they win, Battipaglia said.

If the protesters won, they'd likely have to wait for years of appeals

The awards jurors give at trial are rarely actually paid.

Usually, Battipaglia said, awards are reduced by either the judge overseeing the case or by an appellate court. Somewhere along the way, the parties come to a settlement at terms they can all live with.

"The money isn't getting paid until the appeal is sorted out," Battipaglia said. "And you never know how much an appellate court could reduce the amount of a jury award."

That would be particularly likely in a case like Trump's.

Trump faced a jury pool 'notorious' for huge damages before settling a lawsuit brought by protesters, experts say
Donald Trump rides an escalator to a press event to announce his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015 in New York City.Christopher Gregory/Getty Images

Let's say you have a jury that hates Trump, finds him or his company liable, and awards a lot of money to the protesters. Trump's side would then ask the judge to toss out the verdict and, failing that, ask to lower the damages to something more reasonable. The judge might then compare the case to similar cases and lower the jury award in a process called remittitur.

After that, Trump's lawyers might appeal the verdict. It would go to the First Department of Appeals in Manhattan, which Battipaglia said is more conservative when it comes to damages.

"They look at other similar cases with verdicts," Battipaglia said. "They've reduced verdicts quite a bit."

That whole process can add months or even years to legal proceedings. The plaintiffs, who filed their lawsuit six years ago already, might at this point be impatient.

The judge narrowed the plaintiff's path to holding Trump personally liable, but they already won other victories

The initial lawsuit was filed against Trump's company and the members of his security team. Trump was also included as a defendant under the legal doctrine of "respondeat superior," in which employers are responsible for the acts of their employees, so long as the employees were acting within the scope of their employment.


In a previous decision, the judge said jurors were allowed to weigh whether Trump authorized his employees to use force. Lawyers for the protesters pointed to Trump's public statements telling his supporters to "knock the crap out of" protesters at his rallies to buttress their case.

"Plaintiff's counsel remains confident to this day that plaintiffs would've prevailed against Donald Trump individually," Benjamin Dictor, an attorney representing the protesters in the case, told Insider.

Even if the jury never had the chance to test out the theory, the protesters had already won other victories.

Their attorneys successfully forced Trump to sit for a deposition in the case. Excerpts filed to court in April revealed Trump's bizarre concern with protesters throwing "dangerous" fruit like "pineapples, tomatoes, bananas" at his rallies.

Trump faced a jury pool 'notorious' for huge damages before settling a lawsuit brought by protesters, experts say
Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Minden-Tahoe Airport on October 08, 2022 in Minden, Nevada.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer and fixer at the time, testified in his own deposition that Trump directed his head of security to "get rid of" the protesters on the sidewalk. Cohen also said Trump's lawyers failed to disclose he had knowledge of the day's events, even though they were supposed to.


Facing a messy trial, which would potentially lead to more embarrassment, Trump may have wanted to simply close the book on the case as he turned his attention to his 2024 presidential run. In another borough, he was already dealing with the headache of a trial for the Manhattan District Attorney's case against the Trump Organization over alleged financial crimes. Alina Habba, a lawyer representing Trump, said in a statement that her clients were "happy to finally put this matter to rest once and for all."

The terms of the settlement weren't disclosed in court. It's not clear if the agreement contains a confidentiality clause on the depositions or other discovery materials, which would prevent the plaintiffs from making them public. The judge never issued an order to keep the material under seal.

Dictor declined to comment on the resolution of the case. Nonetheless, he and his clients were in a celebratory mood after the settlement was reached, taking photos of each other and exchanging smiles. Trump's attorneys issued a statement recognizing their right to protest peacefully on the sidewalk outside Trump Tower.

"Defendants were staring down the barrel of a Bronx jury who were about to be presented with overwhelming evidence in support of plaintiffs' claims," Dictor said at the time. "Nevertheless, plaintiffs are proud to have settled their claims and to have obtained written recognition by Donald Trump of their right to protest on the public sidewalk. Powerful men may put their names on buildings, but the sidewalk will always belong to the people."