A study of juror and jury judgments in civil cases: Deciding liability for punitive damages.

Hastie, R., Schkade, D. A., & Payne, J. W. (1998). A study of juror and jury judgments in civil cases: Deciding liability for punitive damages. Law and Human Behavior, 22, 287-314.

A study was conducted to investigate civil juries’ decisions concerning defendants’ liability for punitive damages in tort cases. A total of 121 six- member mock juries composed of jury-service-eligible citizens were presented summaries of previously decided cases and given a comprehensive instruction on the defendant’s liability for punitive damages. Most of the mock juries decided that the consideration of punitive damages was warranted, although appellate and trial judges had concluded that they were not warranted. The tendency to find the defendant liable was partly due to jurors’ failure systematically to consider the full set of legally necessary conditions for the verdicts they rendered. Individual differences in the jurors’ backgrounds were not strongly related to their verdicts; income and ethnicity were weakly related to judgments. The social processes in deliberation on civil juries were similar to the dynamics of deliberation that have been observed in criminal juries.

Juries awarded punitive damages 67% of the time in 4 cases that did not warrant them. 77% of jurors did not change votes during deliberation; those that did tended to shift to “liable.” Strong majority influence effect as in criminal cases. Recalling and discussing evidence most common deliberation topic. Initial faction size and case were good predictors of jury verdict; deliberation content codes doubled the variance explained. Comprehension of instructions abysmal; deliberation thoroughness on points of law good predictor of verdict accuracy. Forepersons tended to be male and better educated but no more influential than other jurors.