Last week we shared information regarding the Center for Justice & Democracy’s “Briefing Book” on tort litigation. The takeaway from each post was that there remains serious misunderstandings about how many suits are filed and resolved as they relate to various “injury” cases–including lawsuits alleging nursing home abuse and neglect. While those calling for tort reform laws present an image of a justice system run amok, the data shows otherwise. Most people who are injured do not file suit, and even when they do, only a very small percentage go trial. Following a trial, the average verdict amount is usually far lower than the tort proponent supporters suggest. Similarly, punitive damage awards (always touted as a reason that the civil justice sytem is broken) are rarely given out, and, even when they are given out, the total is far lower than any figure that makes newspaper headlines.
In short: don’t believe what you hear about the current state of the system as promulgated by those seeking to “reform” the system.
On top of that, however, it is a mistake simply to play defense on these issues. It is one thing to say that things “aren’t as bad” as others are suggesting. But it it is another to say forcefully that not only is the system “not that bad,” but it is working as exactly as intended and thriving as a critical societal institution. That forceful case is exaclty what we should be making.
The CJ&D briefing book explains why: juries remain the best, impartial system we have to resolve disputes and bring fairness to those hurt by others.
Jury Decision-Making in Tort Cases
For example, the brief shares information from leading academic researchers who study jury behavior. These professionals use systematic analysis to determine exactly how most juries behave, understand their motivations, and figure out if there are any systematic problems. While nothing involving human judgment is 100% without fault, the researchers have found that juries are, on the whole, very adept at parsing through evidence, weighing credibility, and reaching a reasonable resolution based on the information presented to them.
One of the most common charges against juries is that they are systematically “anti-business.” The argument goes that juries are less capable of separating the harm to an injured party from the business-defendant’s potential accountability and/or ability to pay a large award to help the injured party. However, while this argument might be convenient for those seeking to limit the scope of the jury, it is not based on much emperical fact. As the briefing book notes, to the extent that juries do find more accountability for certain “deep-pockets,” it is because of their perception of standards of care. In other words, juries reasonably take a business’s knowlege, experience, and resources into account when determing whether a standard of care was breached causing injury. That standard is somewhat different when the defendant is an individual.
We must continue to share honest information about tort litgiation and juries in order to preserve the rights of all community members to seek redress when they are hurt by the negligence conduct of others.
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