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CJ&D Brief Shares Information on Wisdom of Jury Verdicts

Birth injury lawsuits are some of the most common cases to make newspaper headlines. That is because the verdicts in these cases are often quite high compared to other tort actions. The reason is straight-forward: the financial consequences of these injuries are demonstrable larger than in most other matters. Injury awards are based, in part, on the total cost of the harm over the course of the victim’s lifetime. In birth injury cases, that means that the cost is added up over many decades. It doesn’t take long before medical bills, specialized care, lost income, and other factors are included to increase the size of an award. The overall calculation, however, is the same in birth injury cases as other tort cases: what position would the party be in if the injury had not occured compared with the position that they are in as a result of the harm.

Regardless, birth injury cases come under frequent scrutiny as a result of the comparatively higher verdicts. This has led some involved interests–like insurance companies and medical conglomerates–to push for rules limiting the rights of those filing these suits. Most potently, laws have been passed to limit the scope of a jury’s decisionmaking in these cases.

Preserving the Jury in Birth Injury Lawsuits
Most arguments made in favor of curtailing the rights of the jury are based on misguided notions and arguments about how juries operate. In birth injury cases, for example, the assumption is usually made that the jury is unable to separate the emotion of the injury from the negligence (or lackthereof) of the professional party involved. Members of the jury are unfairly swayed by sympathy, some claim, so they should be limited in their ability to settle these disputes.

However, as the Center for Justice and Democracy briefing book on tort litigation notes, this argument is not backed up by systematic research into jury behavior. The truth is that juries are not blinded by the deep pockets of some defendants. They do not inherently rule against businesses or big medical interests in these cases solely because they feel sorry for the plaintiff. That simplistic analysis of the situation misses the more complex analysis that goes on in most jury deliberations.

Researchers on the topic note instead that some different trends in verdicts between individual and businesses arise from conclusions about standards of care. Specifically, the proper standard of care for a business entity may differ from an individual. The parties have different experience levels, available resources, and knowledge of a particular situation. Those may factor into what is or is not approprate conduct in any given situation. The subsquent findings of negligence and accountability may therefore vary between businesses and individuals in jury rulings.

The bottom line is that no one should buy into the off-the-cuff arguments about juries only being swayed by emotion or consistenty against business. That is simply not true, and making those remarks casually does a disserve to the seriousness that jurors give to their role in settling these disputes. It is easy to point to individual cases where one might have ruled differently or to pluck out a single statistic as proof of some system-wide problem. And, as with anything in which humans are invovled, there is never 100% perfection in the results. But none of that changes the fact that having decisions in these cases made by a jury of impartial community members selected at random is the best system we have to ensure fairness and proper accountability in human interactions. We need to preserve that system.

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