Dateline: November, 2008, Issue 3

Do jurors punish plaintiffs who request too much money?

At times, damages requested by a plaintiff are very large, or even excessive. Social science research finds that even when the amount requested is large, or even excessive, jurors award more money (though perhaps not all that is requested).

Hinsz and Indahl (1995) showed two groups of jurors a re-enactment of a civil trial in which the defendant was being sued for wrongful death by the parents of two children killed in an automobile accident. For one group of jurors, the plaintiff's lawyer requested $2 million. For the second group of jurors, the plaintiff's lawyer requested $20 million. The mean award for the $2 million request was $1,052,917, while the mean award for the $20 million request was $9,061,538. While jurors felt the $20 million request was excessive, they nonetheless awarded more money when the plaintiff requested more in damages.

Chapman and Bornstein (1996) report similar results for an even more extreme request. For one group of jurors, these researchers included an inordinately high request of $1 billion for a plaintiff who testified that her birth control pills had led to ovarian cancer. In contrast, for a second group of jurors, the same plaintiff asked for relatively much less, $5 million. Even though the jurors rated the plaintiff who asked for $1 billion as more selfish and less honorable, the jurors still awarded her significantly more money than the plaintiff requesting $5 million.

Jurors do not punish plaintiffs who request large, or even excessive, damage awards. While jurors may not award the amount a plaintiff requests, jurors award more money as more money is requested by plaintiffs, even when jurors see a requested amount as excessive and plaintiffs as selfish.

Source Hinsz, V. B., & Indahl, K. E. (1995). Assimilation to anchors for damage awards in a mock civil trial. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 25, pp. 991-1026.

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.