Most people who grudgingly report for jury duty probably do not realize how much their looks and personality, as well as where they live, factor into whether they are selected to be a juror or not. Outside of the jury box, however, lurk the attorneys who are hyperaware of the potential impact a jury's demographics could have on the outcome of their cases.
Tylka Law Firm • Houston & Galveston, Texas
Personal Injury Law Firm
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This is especially so in civil jury trials for personal injury, where various juror characteristics may influence which way a case is decided, as well as how much money is awarded to plaintiffs.
According to an article on jury demographics and biases, which appeared in the February 2009 issue of the Journal of Business & Economics Research, jurors in civil trials tend to have more leeway with calculating damages and determining monetary awards. To try to assess which direction this power may flow-whether toward a plaintiff or defendant-lawyers may test the ability for a particular juror to make a reasonable decision, such as through questioning how he or she might react to certain facts or scenarios related to the case at hand. Lawyers may also use juror questioning to observe or uncover demographics like gender, race, age, religion, political affiliation and education.
In addition, attorneys may research the political leanings and wealth of the county or city population from which the possible jurors are drawn. This helps to determine how conservative or liberal people in the surrounding areas may be or how they might generally view money and compensation. Gathering and analyzing any information about potential jurors, especially details that infer the existence of biases, can lead to better knowledge about how the jury will process all the facts and evidence presented at trial.
There have been various studies on how certain demographics can influence case outcomes. One study identified a pattern where people of similar demographics responded in the same manner, with regard to their collective anger and view on penalties, to factual situations with which they were presented. However, in the context of a trial scenario, they could not translate their shared beliefs and conclusions into dollar values without a frame of reference or comparable set of circumstances.
Some findings, though, have indicated more specific traits that have a greater impact on damage amounts. For example, men give higher awards for pain and suffering and people who embody a unique combination of both race and gender, especially non-white women, give larger and more comprehensive settlements in personal injury cases, such as to victims of car accidents. Other research also found that more affluent men or women tend to control the jury deliberations, which may lead to more predictable award outcomes.
Regardless, there is no conclusive evidence that a specific juror's characteristics directly leads to an accurate prediction of which way a juror will decide a personal injury case.
The ultimate goal of jury selection is to build a fair and impartial group of citizens. However, while the juror candidates are being examined, it is the lawyer's task to make assumptions about, and ultimately select, the jurors who will most likely return a verdict in their favor. Jury selection can make or break a personal injury case, so taking this process seriously is increasingly important.