Dateline: January, 2011, Issue 2

How well do juror demographics predict punitive damage awards in high-stakes civil cases?

Vinson and colleagues (2008) investigated how well juror demographics could predict punitive damage awards in three (real) high-stakes civil cases:

Jurors' gender, age, education, income, ethnicity, marital status, and occupation predicted punitive damage awards at best modestly, and in different ways, in the insurance, tobacco and pharmaceutical cases.

In the tobacco case: Males, African Americans, blue-collared workers and older jurors were somewhat more likely to find for the smoker, while females, non-African Americans, professional workers and younger jurors were somewhat more likely to find for the tobacco company. Among jurors who found for the plaintiff, divorced jurors awarded greater punitive damages.

In the pharmaceutical case: Older jurors were somewhat more likely to find for the plaintiffs, and single jurors were somewhat more likely to find for the defendant as were couples who were married as opposed to living together. Of jurors awarding punitive damages to the plaintiff, those with professional or managerial positions made larger awards.

In the insurance case: Jurors with more education and income, were somewhat more likely to find for the plaintiff, and they along with jurors who were widowed or in managerial positions awarded higher punitive damages.

Jurors' demographic characteristics never predicted more than 2% of the variance in jurors punitive damages awards, and usually less than 1%.

The researchers conclude that the effects of demographic characteristics are modest, and that whether a particular characteristic has an impact depends heavily on characteristics of the individual case.

Source Vinson, K.V., Costanzo, M.A., & Berger, D.E. (2008). Predictors of Verdict and Punitive Damages in High-Stakes Civil Litigation. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 26, pp. 167-186.