December 2, 2012

On the Merit of the Jury Decisions

by Levin & Perconti

This week we shared information on the reality of tort litigation in the civil justice system. Contrary to the perceptions of many, few injured parties file lawsuits and, when they do, not many cases go to trial. When they do go to trial the verdicts are usually evenly split between plaintiffs and defendants, with slightly more verdicts for the plaintiff. The monetary awards in those cases are often far less than most suspect and punitive damage awards are incredibly uncommon.

All of this accurate information is important in dispelling myths made by those seeking to take away certain rights to a jury trial for ordinary consumers.

But beyond explaining how jury decisions are not actually as "misguided" as some suggest, it is also important to reiterate the actual good things that come from jury decisionmaking. While it is often derided, the fact is that the trial by an impartial jury of one's peers is simply the best method that has been devised to universally decide disputes. That is why it is enshrined in so many governing documents.

In fact, the value of the jury system has been verified by systematic research into the way that juries operate on a general basis. As before, the briefing book from the Center for Justice & Democracy on tort litigation provides a straightforward succinct summary of the ways that juries in these cases often operate. If you missed it in previous posts, you can view the full report here.

Research Into Jury Conduct
For example, the report shares information from leading researchers on jury conduct who explain that jurors usually subject the evidence of plaintiffs to very strict scrutiny. This runs counter to the perception of jurors as automatically being highly susceptible to the stories told by lawyers for those filing suit. When it comes to corporate defendants, researchers have noted that instead of changing their decision-making as a result for defendants who they know have "deep pockets," juries simply take into account corporate knowledge, resources, and expertise in their decisions. While this often leads chronic civil defendants to believe that juries are "anti-business," researchers indicate that in reality juries are much more nuanced. In other words, to paraphrase some of the leading researchers on this issue, juries simply expect more of the reasonable corporation than the reasonable individual. This makes sense given the differing positions of each.

Experts exploring the motivations of juries explain that when reaching decisions juries usually try to do their best to piece together the most plausible story from the information presented before them. In other words, when a case goes to trial, juries are not predisposed to believe one side's story over the other. Instead, jurors balance the stories from the witnesses, their credibility, and the overall likelihood of the alternatives presented by both sides in reaching their conclusion. This is exactly the sort of deliberation that was intended by those promoting the merit of juries.

All of this has led the leading academic researchers on juries to conclude that in virtually every case there is a strong relationship between the relative strength of the evidence and the jury decisions. While those trying to limit the work of juries often make claims about how juries are unfairly swayed by passion and emotion, instead of reason, actual research into these issues proves otherwise.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

The Truth About Torts & Trials

Center for Justice & Democracy Release Tort Litigation Briefing Book