Dateline: October, 2008, Issue 2
Do jurors award more money when given general or special verdict forms?
Attorneys have considerable control over the verdict form provided civil juries. At times, a general verdict form is used, where the jury is called on to answer one or two global questions . At other times, the jury answers a series of specific questions relating to the material issues in the case. The type of verdict form jurors receive can influence their verdicts.
Schmidt and Diamond (1998) examined the effect of verdict forms on liability judgments in a products liability case. Jurors given a general verdict form were nearly twice as likely to favor the plaintiff as those with the special verdict form.
Wiggins and Breckler (1990) examined the effect of verdict forms on liability decisions and damage awards in a defamation case. The general verdict form asked jurors to find for the plaintiff or the defendant, and award the appropriate damages. The special verdict form asked jurors to answer several questions about the case (e.g., Did the plaintiff prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant made a defamatory statement about her? Did the plaintiff prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defamatory statement injured her?, etc.). Jurors given the general verdict form made similar liability decisions as jurors given the special verdict form. However, jurors making special verdicts gave substantially higher compensatory awards than those issuing only general verdicts.
In sum, while special verdict forms do not always affect liability decisions, they have the potential to lead jurors to hold defendants liable more often. Further, a plaintiff's losses are more highly compensable when jurors make multiple and consecutive decisions of fact about a case.
Source Schmidt, E. & Diamond, S. (1998). Controlling the jury by structuring the jury's task. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society, Redondo Beach, CA.
Source Wiggins, E. & Breckler, S. (1990). Special verdicts as guides to decision making. Law and Psychology Review, 14, pp. 1-41.