Dateline: October, 2010, Issue 3

Do plaintiffs need to be careful of how much money they request for damages?

Jurors anchor damage awards on amounts requested by plaintiff attorneys. Most often, the more a plaintiff attorney requests, the more jurors award, even if jurors are offended by the size of the plaintiff attorney's request.

Chapman and Bornstein (1996) had different groups of jurors hear a request for damages for either $100, $20,000, $5 million or $1 billion for the very same case and injuries. As the size of the attorney's lump sum request increased from $100 to $20,000 to $5 million to $1 billion, jurors hearing that request awarded more money to the plaintiff.

In the first of two studies, Marti and Wissler (2000) had a plaintiff's attorney request of different groups of jurors either $750,000, $1.5 million or $5 million for harm that was evaluated, absent a request, as being worth $250,000. Even though jurors awarded less than the amount the plaintiff attorney requested, the larger the request a group of jurors heard, the more money the jurors awarded in damages.

Marti and Wissler then sought to determine if a plaintiff attorney's request could be perceived as sufficiently extreme so as to reduce the damages awarded when compared to a less extreme request.

In Marti and Wissler's second study, a plaintiff's attorney requested either $1.5 million, $15 million, or $25 million from different groups of jurors for harm that was evaluated, absent a request, as being worth $250,000. The $1.5 million request is 6 times larger than the harm was evaluated to be worth, the $15 million request is 60 times larger, and the $25 million request is 100 times larger.

Jurors awarded nearly three times more in damages in response to the $15 million request than the $1.5 million request. A small backfire effect occurred for the $25 million request. The $25 million request yielded a montary award only two-thirds as large as the $15 million request, but still 2.5 times larger than the damages awarded in response to the $1.5 million request.

Marti and Wissler echoed the earlier sentiments of researchers that "the more you ask for, the more you get," but also cautioned "be careful what you ask for."

Source Chapman, G. B., & Bornstein, B. H. (1996). The more you ask for, the more you get: Anchoring in personal injury verdicts. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 10, pp. 519-540.

Source Marti, M. W., & Wissler, R. L. (2000). Be careful what you ask for: The effect of anchors on personal injury damages awards. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 6, pp. 91-103.