Dateline: December, 2008, Issue 2

Do jurors award the same or different damages as arbitrators and judges?

When deciding to have a civil case resolved through arbitration, a bench trial, or a jury trial, a common concern focuses on damages the decision-maker might award. The perspective of judges and lawyers is often thought to be different than that of lay citizens.

Robbennolt (2002) compared jurors' awards of punitive damages with those of trial judges in a medical malpractice case. On average, jurors awarded the same amount of punitive damages as judges. Jurors' average punitive damage award was 5% higher than the average award by judges, a difference that was not statistically significant.

Vidmar (1995) compared jurors' damage awards with the awards of arbitrators and reports similar results, but with an important caveat. In a case involving a medical accident during elective surgery that led to burns and pain for the patient, the median award to the plaintiff by 21 arbitrators was $57,000 versus $47,850 by 89 jurors, a difference that was also not statistically significant. However, awards made by individual jurors were much more variable than those made by individual arbitrators. Individual juror awards ranged from $11,000 to $197,000, while individual arbitrator awards ranged from $22,000 to $82,000. The range of awards by individual arbitrators was one-third that of the range of awards by individual jurors.

In sum, on average, jurors award damages similar to arbitrators and judges, but the awards made by individual jurors vary much more than those made by individual arbitrators.

Source Robbenolt, J. K. (2002). Punitive damage decision-making: The decisions of citizens and court judges. Law and Human Behavior, 26, pp. 315-341.

Source Vidmar, N. (1995). Medical malpractice and the American jury: Confronting the myths about jury incompetence, deep pockets, and outrageous damage awards. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.