Traumatic national events, like the COVID-19 pandemic elicit a broad range of emotions in potential jurors. Jurors, like all of us, worry about the safety of our family and loved ones, keeping jobs, the state of the economy, or the stress of taking on new family and educational responsibilities. Recently, we have conducted some national survey research and the data demonstrates that the pandemic has heightened many latent juror attitudes about the government, corporations, and many other institutions and business. These stressors and biases combine to create a mix of emotions that potential jurors bring into the courtroom. Overwhelmingly, and not surprisingly, research on emotion and affective states demonstrates that people bring their emotional baggage with them when making decisions and passing judgements, even if they consciously realize their anger or sadness is extrinsic to the decision they are making. It’s simply human nature. Continue reading →
Last year, Johnson & Johnson was hit with an $8 billion verdict by a Philadelphia jury, an amount that exceeded the gross domestic product of more than sixty countries (included Monaco, Belize, and Greenland) in that same year, according to data from the International Monetary Fund. In fact, Johnson & Johnson has become the posterchild for what many in the legal industry refer to as “nuclear verdicts,” but J&J is not alone. Jury verdict awards in the hundreds of millions and billions are becoming more and more common in American trials. The impact of this upward trend in verdicts is often referred to as “social inflation” and has become a popular topic that has understandably caused panic within the insurance industry.
Social inflation and nuclear verdicts indisputably demonstrate that a standard economic analysis for assessing risk in litigation is no longer sufficient for accurately predicting potential risk. Under a standard economic analysis, the value of an injury such as quadriplegia for a plaintiff should be no different in 2019 than it was in 2007 for a similar plaintiff beyond the adjustment for standard inflation (and certainly no different from a similar injury in a similar 2019 case), but that is not what we are seeing with jury verdicts. Instead, they are wildly erratic and inconsistent. In short, the data on jury verdicts demonstrates irrationality at work. Fortunately, the study of jury economics (a subdivision of behavioral economics) helps explain this phenomenon, highlighting what renowned psychologist Dan Arriely calls the “predictably irrational” behavior of today’s juries. Continue reading →
We quickly learned that Richard was a horrible juror for us in the trucking accident case we were working on. We had decent evidence that the plaintiff had fallen asleep behind the wheel and veered into our truck, but Richard wasn’t having it. As soon as this issue came up in deliberations, he jumped in, stating, “I don’t care what he says. We have all been on the road with truck drivers and they routinely fly over into the other lane without any notice at all.” This quote was so powerful because what Richard was really saying was, I don’t care what the evidence in this case is because I’m going to go with my own personal experiences instead. Fortunately, this was only a mock trial, but it highlights an important reality about jury decision-making: it is an ego-centric process, and the research shows it is only getting worse with the emergence of the millennial juror. Continue reading →
The “law of least effort” is an important principle for understanding jury decision-making. In short, if there are several ways of making sense of the evidence and testimony in a case, jurors will gravitate towards the one that is the least demanding for their brains. As Nobel-winning psychology Daniel Kahneman (who has spent his life studying human decision-making) states, “Laziness is built deep into our nature.”
In fact, research has consistently shown that we assign greater weight to information and ideas that are more easily accessible to us, regardless of whether that information or those ideas are accurate and reliable. It may be because the information or idea is familiar, easier to understand, makes more intuitive sense, or ties to something that is easier for our brain to access. Continue reading →
An important lesson I have learned from observing jurors’ decision-making in mock trials is that jurors sometimes dislike strategies that nevertheless are quite effective. They may not like what they see, yet they are still persuaded by it. These moments can be tough to digest. Besides the gut-check, it is difficult to ignore the fact that several mock jurors are criticizing something you did. However, research has shown over and over again that persuasion does not always happen at a conscious level. In other words, what jurors verbally express about something does not necessarily reflect its actual effectiveness. Continue reading →
One of the most popular strategies used and advocated by many plaintiff’s attorneys across the country is the “broken rule” strategy. The theory is that the most important strategy for any plaintiff is to establish a clear rule up front, and then prove that the defendant broke that rule. Some of the popularity of this theory comes from Reptile, written by David Ball and Don Keenan.
As I’ve written before, there are a variety of significant problems and shortcomings associated with the Reptile strategy, one of which is that the “science” that serves as the foundation for the theory has largely been disproven. However, just like some people still believe vaccinations lead to autism, many attorneys have brushed aside the problems with the science behind the Reptile strategy. So let’s set the science discussion to the side and take a closer look at the “broken rule” strategy. Continue reading →
Before you read any further, watch the above 1 minute and 41 second video, which will provide incredible insights into your trial presentation strategy as discussed below.
Did you pass or fail? As they tell you in the video, almost half of all of the people who watch this video (and have not seen it before) fail the test by not seeing the gorilla. Even more interesting, we learn that even those who have seen this kind of experiment before (and expect something odd to happen) failed to notice the second change, which was the color of the curtain in the background.
Your first reaction may have been that this is an interesting little party trick kind of experiment that you can forward along to your friends, but upon further glance, this experiment provides critical insights into what happens at trial as jurors listen to your case presentation. Describing this experiment, Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman noted that “intense focusing on a task can make people effectively blind, even to stimuli that normally attract attention.” Continue reading →
In his 2011 book Thinking Fast and Slow, famed psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman wrote this in his effort to explain the essence of intuitive heuristics: “When faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.”
While the fundamental concept in this quote is not particularly ground-breaking (at least in today’s world of psychological research), Kahneman’s phrasing eloquently hammers home a critical point for attorneys and how they think about their cases. Continue reading →
I had a very interesting experience recently on a case in New York. While we had worked with the client before, we had never worked with this particular group of attorneys. The stakes were significant and there were ongoing discussions about a potential mock trial. These discussions created an interesting dynamic where the client wanted to do a mock trial, but the client’s attorneys did not support the idea and questioned the value of such a project. Notably, the client, who we had worked with several times in the past, had never conducted a mock trial before, so while he was convinced that there was value to a mock trial, he could not necessarily articulate what the specific benefits of conducting one would be.
The end result was that the client made the decision to move forward despite his attorneys’ lack of interest. Afterwards, he was so impressed with the critical insights that we learned that the decision was made to conduct a second mock trial a month later in order to maximize the trial team’s intel for its strategy development and trial presentation decisions. Continue reading →
In episode 3, I discuss the common psychological processes at play as jurors attempt to make sense of all of the information presented at trial, with particular focus on what this means for the development of an effective defense strategy.