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Nathaniel Fick
Nathaniel Fick
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There’s a Method to The Madness: How Juries Award Damages in Personal Injury Cases

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In civil litigation, justice is achieved through the awarding of monetary damages. Unfortunately, this is far from an exact science, and juries are often extremely unpredictable, but it is helpful to understand the factors that go into their decisions.

Gist of the Case

Most juries consider the gist, or main point, of the case, determine whether the damages should be low, medium, or high, and then get more specific from there. The actual numbers often vary greatly because an individual jury’s effort to translate the gist of the case into concrete dollar amounts depend upon individual perception and context. While $200,000 might seem high in an automobile accident case, it could be considered low in a high-profile wrongful death action.

Same but Different?

Although two injuries might seem nearly identical, the damage awards that juries make regarding them can be significantly different and result in what might appear  arbitrary outcomes. For example, if two plaintiffs suffer a broken leg, the damages awarded to a construction worker might be greater than those given to a sedentary office worker – same injury, different damages.

Starting Point

Jurors are often influenced by numerical anchor, or starting point, no matter how random the figure may be. This supports research that the more money plaintiffs’ attorneys ask for, the more they typically receive. Accordingly, they often seek an award that is a little higher than average for the type of injury sustained as a way to prevent the verdict from coming in too low.

Although civil juries are often considered erratic, a damage award really isn’t the crap shoot that it might seem to be, unless the plaintiff’s attorney makes it so by failing to do one of the most important aspects of his job: providing necessary guidance to the jury.