Dateline: February, 2007, Issue 4

Can jurors treat corporations as they do individuals?

Jurors often assign greater responsibility to corporate defendants than individuals for the same behavior.

Hans and Ermann (1989) asked two groups of mock jurors to decide the same civil lawsuit, with the only difference between the cases given to the jurors being that one group heard the defendant was a corporation (The Jones Corporation), while the other group heard the defendant was an individual (Mr. Jones). The jurors hearing about the corporate defendant applied a higher standard of responsibility to the corporation, judged the corporation to be more reckless and morally wrong, and recommended higher damages be awarded against the corporation.

Robinette (2000) tested whether a corporate defendant could limit its liability and/or damages if its actions could be traced to one company employee versus being the decision of a group of employees. Liability judgments and compensatory damages did not differ when the defense traced actions to one company employee versus a group of employees. However, jurors were more likely to assess punitive damages, and assigned greater responsibility and blame, when the decision was one of a group of employees versus an individual employee.

Jurors expect more from corporations than from individuals.

Source Hans, V. P. & Ermann, M. D. (1989). Responses to corporate versus individual wrong-doing. Law and Human Behavior, 13, pp. 151-166.

Source Robinette, P. R. (2000). Differential treatment of corporate defendants as a function of actor identity and evaluator expectations. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, 60, p. 3110.