Dateline: October, 2006, Issue 4

Does bifurcation of damages decisions affect compensatory damage awards?

In a simulated products liability trial, Adams (2006) recently tested the effects of bifurcating decisions regarding compensatory and punitive damage awards. Fifty-nine groups of 5-7 mock jurors heard evidence in a bifurcated or non-bifurcated format, deliberated about a case to a unanimous decision, and awarded damages. Two versions of the same case were presented to the mock juries. Half the juries heard a version of the case in which the severity of the injury to the plaintiff was low, while the other half of the juries heard the same case but with the severity of injury to the plaintiff being high.

Trial bifurcation decreased variability in compensatory damage awards across juries, and decreased the tendency for juries to award extremely high compensatory damages for jurors hearing the same version of the case. In addition, deliberation led to lower compensatory awards when the plaintiff's injury was lower in severity and higher awards when the plaintiff's injury was higher in severity. Mock jurors reported that they felt they were using evidence more appropriately when the decisions were bifurcated.

Source Adams, C.M.S. (2006). Separating compensatory and punitive damage award decisions by trial bifurcation. Law & Human Behavior, 30, pp. 11-30.