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New Media Effects May Skew Perception of Civil Justice System

When explaining the work that they do, an Illinois nursing home neglect lawyer is often put on the defensive when talking with one who has a negative perception of the civil justice system. Most are familiar with the criticism faced by injury attorneys who work in a variety of areas, including those who work with victims of Illinois nursing home abuse. The most common concern is that victims are getting too much money. This opinion is reached based upon skewed assumptions about the justice system as a whole, the average size of jury verdicts, and the way that decisions are reached in these cases.

This week the Center for Justice & Democracy published a new paper which took a look at the public perception of the civil justice system. In particular they examined the ways in which news media is collected and dispersed in the 21st Century influencing the often unfair perception of the legal system. This latest research is follow-up to a ten-year old study which found that news headlines of jury verdicts almost always highlighting the highest awards and virtually never discussed the misconduct that led to the award. In addition, news coverage never mentioned what was actually happening in a vast majority of cases: plaintiffs failed to receive any award and the awards that they did get were often very modest. All of these findings were bolstered a few years later when the book “Distorting the Law” was published echoing the findings of media effects on the public perception of the justice system.

The latest study continues this trend by working to understand the way that new media trends share information about the justice system. Since these previous works were published, there has been a steady increase in the significant of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Also many more people are receiving their news not from newspapers, but via online sources, often found using Google news aggregators. The aggregators, like regular headlines in newspapers, only provide a small snippet of information about the story in an attempt to entice the viewer to read more. This feature influences the media outlets to include eye-catching figures (such as a large jury award) and catchy headlines, regardless of the effect that the headlines have on the perception

The latest examination of the trends found other interesting features of the skewed system as well. For example the average jury award amount reported in headlines was $4.6 million. This is in comparison to the average jury award of $24,000for a winning plaintiff in the jury trials overall according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice. Therefore, media reports of verdicts were nearly 200 times larger than the usual jury award. This same trend skewing the overall totals were also found when looking at reported and actual settlement figures. The researchers also found that media outlets were six times more likely to report a plaintiff win than a defense win and rarely do outlets explain that plaintiff will never actually receive many of the largest awards because of caps.

The Illinois nursing home neglect lawyers at our firm know that the civil justice system is a vital tool used by victims to receive compensation for their losses and to hold their wrongdoer accountable. Contrary to the often misleading public perceptions, those who file suit following Illinois nursing home abuse are not money-hungry family members seeking a quick buck. Instead, they are regular community members who are using the basic tools available since the nation’s founding to seek justice and respect while encouraging reasonable treatment at these facilities.

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