By Jill D. Schmid
For the past couple of years, we’ve been conducting national surveys on a variety of subjects in order to find out what kinds of widely held beliefs jurors bring into the courtroom. This data has helped inform many litigation strategies, witness preparation efforts, and jury de-selection strategies. Recently, we put all the questions together, added COVID specific questions, and conducted our largest nationwide survey yet. All of the data was collected in May 2020. The data not only tells us about how the jury pool will likely be different in the foreseeable future due to the fact that approximately 45% of the population responded that they would ignore a jury summons because of health/safety concerns, but it also shows us how attitudes have shifted as a result of the pandemic. Here are just a few areas where we saw some swings.
- Employment Litigation: Pre-pandemic, 78% of those surveyed agreed that “In a lawsuit where an employee filed a lawsuit against his or her employer, I would tend to favor the employee.” In May of 2020, that number fell to 58%. Additionally, pre-pandemic, only 46% of those surveyed agreed that they “have difficulty trusting people in management in the workplace.” May of 2020, that number rose to just over 57%.
- Healthcare: Pre-pandemic, 92% of those surveyed agreed that “health insurance companies exert too much control over physicians and how they treat their patients.” In May of 2020 that number fell to 78.5%. Pre-pandemic, 48% of those surveyed agreed that they “do not trust large hospitals.” In May of 2020, that number fell to 35%. And, while not significant, the percentage who agreed that “in a lawsuit between a patient and a healthcare provider, I would tend to favor the patient,” fell from just over 70% to 65%. We also asked respondents if their trust in hospitals (regardless of size) has increased, stayed the same, or decreased due to the pandemic: 48% said that the pandemic has increased their trust, 38% said there was no impact, and 14% said their trust level has decreased. For doctors, the percentages were: 52% increased trust, 38% no impact, and 10%decreased trust. For nurses, the percentages were: 57% increased trust, 34% no impact, and 9% decreased trust.
- Corporations: The responses related to corporations showed that in many ways, people still hold relatively negative opinions of larger corporations. However, for many of the statements, there were small shifts in larger corporations’ favor. For example, 75% of those surveyed in May of 2020, agreed that “Large corporations are more likely to put profits over safety than smaller corporations.” Pre-pandemic that number was 79%. For the statement, “Most large corporations try to do the right thing when making business decisions,” pre-pandemic the percentage agreeing was 50%; May of 2020 it rose to 54%. The biggest shift was for the statement: “Smaller corporations have a stronger sense of community responsibility than larger corporations.” Pre-pandemic agreement response was 81%. In May of 2020, it fell to 67%. Finally, we asked respondents’ opinions of how the pandemic influenced the behavior of large corporations: 56% said that the pandemic led corporations to act more responsibly than before, 25% said there was no impact, and 19% said it led corporations to act less responsibly.
However, to put those numbers into needed perspective, let’s go back to the numbers from the beginning. In the survey, we saw that approximately 45% of the population said they would ignore a jury summons out of fear for their own health safety. We are now in July and the curve has done anything but flatten. Our data shows (and with the spikes in infections and deaths, the data is quite possibly even stronger) that assuming a jury pool will be reflective of the entire venire is a big mistake. Yes, there are some general assumptions that can be made about who will not show up (elderly, those who are health compromised, those with increased financial hardships, etc.), but other categories of folks who will NOT show have significant differences in how they view the world; in other words, those who WILL show up have significantly different attitudes about a variety of key issues that could very likely influence how they view your case and/or the amount of damages they would award. That means, any data about jurors’ opinions of corporations, health care, employers, etc., should takes into account who will likely show up in the first place.
Here are just some examples of where the differences in world views varied between those who would and would not show up for jury duty. With those who indicated they would show up, we found:
- General litigation attitudes are more pro-defense: Would award lower damages than those who would stay home, and if forced to show up for jury duty against their wishes, those who did not want to serve would be more likely to hold it against the plaintiff
- Employment attitudes are more pro-employer: Agreed more with the statement “Most employers work hard to treat their employees fairly.” Agreed less with the statement “In a lawsuit where an employee filed a claim against his or her employer, I would tend to favor the employee.” More likely to disagree with the statement “I have difficulty trusting people in management in the workplace.”
- More pro-corporation attitudes: Agreed less with the statement “Lawsuits are the best way to hold large corporations accountable for their wrongdoing.” Agreed less with the statement, “Large corporations are more likely to put profits over safety than smaller corporations.” Much less likely to believe that “large corporations are more likely to break the law than small corporations.” Much more likely to disagree with the statement “I would have a difficult time trusting the testimony of a representative from a large corporation than I would a representative from a small corporation.”