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. Continue reading →
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 →
I, like most of you, have probably been having some difficult conversations lately. The most difficult, though, are not just steeped in real ideological differences, but in the ways in which the issues are being framed. For years, there have been a debates and differences of opinion about what “Black Lives Matter” and the “Take a Knee” movement truly mean. The framing of those phrases and movements likely moves someone in one particular direction over another. This past week, another phrase has come about that is doing the same thing: “defund the police.” Continue reading →
Mock jurors sit at least six feet apart with masks and other health and safety measures in place.
By Jill D. Schmid, Ph.D.
It was awesome to get back to conducting in-person mock trial research this past weekend! While things looked a bit different, it still checked off all the boxes for a successful project and, as always, we gained some incredibly important insights that will help us prepare for trial. Part of the reason this project was so important is because so many attorneys are wondering if mock trial research is even possible in the coming months. The answer is a resounding yes and, most important, there are a variety of ways to conduct the research while protecting the health and safety of everyone involved. This is important because, while so many in our industry were quick to put into the place the ability to conduct online mock trials, the reality is that online mock trials simply do not live up to the real thing and many attorneys understandably do not want to go that route. Here are some specifics about our project this past weekend to give you a very clear picture of how these can be fielded in the coming months: Continue reading →
It is the question on every litigator’s mind: What impact, if any, will the pandemic have on jury decision-making once trials resume? Will there be more goodwill towards businesses because of the economic toll the pandemic has taken? Will perceptions of a widening rich/poor gap perpetuate social inflation and nuclear verdicts? The questions go on and on and it is important to have answers to them. I expect that many organizations will purport to have those answers, but those answers might be misleading or flat-out wrong for one very important reason. Continue reading →
As the country starts to re-open and jury trials resume, it is our job to research and understand what impact the pandemic and the stay-at-home orders that lasted over two months in some states will have on how jurors evaluate liability and damages going forward. There are many ways to approach this kind of research. For example, we just completed on of the largest surveys we have ever conducted in order to get specific answers to some of the questions we know attorneys and general counsel will have. We are currently in the process of analyzing all of that data.
It is also important to look back in history to other significant events for points of comparison. Everyone I talk to immediately draws comparisons to the 2008 recession, which makes a lot of sense given the economic parallels. When I have suggested looking at September 11, many brush off the suggestion, arguing that it is simply not comparable. However, delving behind assumptions, it becomes clear that there are some very important connections that are worth examination. Continue reading →
We have officially entered the eighth week of the stay-at-home order in Washington State. Six days ago, our governor announced there would be no jury trials in the state until at least July. During this time, we have had at least a dozen cases across the country that were supposed to go to trial, but now await an uncertain future. In the next few months, we have another dozen cases that are supposed to go to trial, but those are uncertain, too, as courts will surely be dealing with enormous scheduling challenges. Fortunately, we have remained busy during this time while still benefiting from the opportunity to devote some time to reflect and explore new ways to approach our practice, not only out of concern for the COVID health issues, but also as part of our constant effort to improve the quality of our services. Among the many questions we have been asked, three, in particular, stand out. I will address each of these in this week’s blog. Continue reading →
*Previously published our Jury Economics column in the December 2019 issue of the King County Bar Bulletin.
By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. and Kevin R. Boully, Ph.D.
Do you pursue happiness in each moment or live a life to be proud of when you someday look back on it? What does your preference say about how you make decisions? Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman has repeatedly discussed an important discovery of human decision-making he describes as the realization of the two selves that exist in each of us. His point tackles the fundamental reality of how we experience and understand the world around us and is a critical component applied to jury economics. Kahneman describes the two selves as the experiencing self and the remembering self, and the critical distinction between the two is time. Continue reading →
*Previously published our Jury Economics column in the January 2020 issue of the King County Bar Bulletin.
By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. and Kevin Boully, Ph.D.
Then-Stanford Psychology graduate student Elizabeth Newton conducted a fascinating experiment over a decade ago when she divided participants into groups she dubbed “tappers” and “listeners.” The tappers were asked to select from a list of well-known Americana songs and then tap the tune for the listener assigned to sit across from them. The tappers could not say or hum anything. All they could do was tap their finger. The listener’s job was to guess what song was being tapped by the tapper. The tappers predicted that the listeners would guess the correct song 50% of the time, but when all of the results were compiled, the listeners were only able to guess the correct song 2.5% of the time.
The study was a lesson in communication. For the tappers who could hear the song in their heads as they tapped it out, it was easy to overestimate how obvious the song was to the listeners, who could not hear the song in their head. The listeners lacked the context that made it so easy for the tappers to think the song they were trying to communicate was obvious. The same thing happens at trial, with attorneys taking the role of the tappers and jurors taking the role of listeners. We have worked to address this challenge for years, but in this month’s column, we want to explore it a little deeper because it is easy to overlook just how difficult it is for jurors to hear the song in the heads of the trial teams. Some of these barriers have nothing to do with the case, the attorneys, or anything that is actually happening in the courtroom. A better understanding of these barriers helps attorneys present their cases in ways that provide jurors with clear vision of the key issues in the case. 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 →