Dateline: February, 2011, Issue 4

How do jurors' litigation crisis beliefs affect punitive damage awards?

Jurors differ in whether they believe damage awards are excessive, a litigation crisis exists, and tort reform is necessary. Such litigation crisis beliefs often influence both liability verdicts and punitive damage awards, though not always.

In 1991, Greene and colleagues found that jurors who believed that damage awards were excessive and tort reform was necessary awarded less in punitive damages than jurors who did not hold such beliefs.

In 1994, Hans and Lofquist developed a "litigation crisis" scale and asked jurors to agree or disagree with such statements as "there are too many frivolous lawsuits," "people sue too quickly," "monetary awards are too high," and "jurors do a poor job of assessing damages." Jurors agreeing with those statements favored business, opposed regulation, and were skeptical of plaintiffs' profit motives. These jurors awarded lower punitive damages than did jurors who did not agree with those statements.

In 2008, Vinson and colleagues studied three (real) high stakes civil cases shortly before they were to go to trial. More than 400 jurors participated in the research. Jurors' litigation crisis beliefs predicted verdict and punitive damage awards inconsistently across the three cases:

Vinson and colleagues conclude that in certain types of cases jurors' beliefs about whether the court system is experiencing a litigation crisis can predict jurors liability decisions and punitive damage awards, specifically, cases where an individual or group of individuals has been harmed after using a product manufactured by a large company.

Source Hans, V.P., & Lofquist, W.S. (1994). Perceptions of civil justice: The litigation crisis attitudes of civil jurors. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 12, 181-196.

Source Greene, E., Goodman, J., & Loftus, E. (1991). Jurors' attitudes about civil litigation and the size of damage awards. American University Law Review, 40, pp. 805-820.

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.