NJP News

07.02.2020

Respondents Were Evenly Split About Whether The Economy Would Influence Damages

As jury researchers grapple with how Covid-19 will shape juror behavior and attitudes, one important question is how the pandemic and resulting downturn in the economy will affect damage awards. In times of national crisis, attorneys are worried jurors will push damages down. In our survey, we found nearly half of the survey respondents were inclined to keep emotional distress damages low, but we also found that another group of respondents would increase damage awards because of current economic conditions. It is always important to remember that jurors rarely act as a universal block but come from different backgrounds and have different life experiences that shape their attitudes. There is no single answer to how Covid-19 will impact damage awards, but we did see some trends.

The respondents were almost evenly split over whether the current economic problems would influence the amount of money they would award an injured person: 49% said it would influence the amount, 51% said it would not.

More Than Two-Thirds Would Increase Damages

Slightly more than two-thirds (68%) of those who said the economy would influence their damage awards would increase the amount. The wide-spread fallout from the economy coming to a standstill may be driving this desire to increase damages. Millions of people lost jobs, lost businesses, and took pay cuts. Many people who never had to rely on safety nets cannot feed their families and pay for housing. The economic suffering is catastrophic. Some people may feel more empathetic to those who are hurting now and have a better understanding of what it means to navigate a world without a job, access to healthcare, and with dim prospects for the future. They recognize that people who have been injured need more economic assistance when times are tough.

Anger at corporations may also fuel the desire to increase damages. Our survey assumed an individual plaintiff suing a corporation. Corporations have been criticized for failing to protect their employees’ and customers’ health during this pandemic by flouting safety rules to make a profit. Corporate executives continued to collect exorbitant salaries and bonuses while the workforce was slashed, and employees were left jobless. Some respondents may feel that in this economic climate, a corporation is in a better financial position to pay for the care of an injured party.  

Nearly One-Third Would Decrease Damages

Thirty-two percent said the current economic problems would influence their damage awards and cause them to decrease the amount. Those who were more likely to decrease the amount were,

There was no meaningful difference between men and women.

 Those respondents who said they would decrease damages may be more likely to keep damages down even in a non-Covid world and may feel like in times of economic uncertainty it is best to limit compensation. They may be thinking that with the economy down, everyone has to make do with less money. They may also have been affected economically and feel less inclined to compensate others when their financial situation has significantly declined. 

Concern about the current economy causes some to decrease awards more than others

Latinx 35%
Asian  35%
White    32%
Black  19%
18-30 years 29%
31-50 years 32%
51 and older 35%
Republicans 41%
Democrats 29%
Had/suspect  had Covid 54%
Did not have Covid 30%

Looking more carefully at gender, race, and age, we find white males and Latinx males over 50, and Asian males under 50 were more likely to decrease damages.

The current economy will influence damage awards and will decrease damages.

  Under 50 years 50 and over
White males 26% 67%
White females 23% 36%
Black males 20% 0
Black females 8% 25%
Latinx males 22% 50%
Latinx females 43% 0
Asian males 63% 20%
Asian females 29% 29%

Less Than Half the Respondents Would Limit Emotional Distress Damages 

Respondents were asked specifically about limiting compensation for emotional distress, and less than half of the respondents, 43%, agreed that, With everything that is going on in the country now, a company that made a defective product which badly hurt someone should have to only pay for medical costs and lost wages, and very little, if anything for emotional distress and suffering. Those who were more likely to limit compensation for emotional distress and suffering were,

  • Latinx
    • Men
    • Respondents under 30
    • Republicans
    • Those who generally favored corporations over the individual in a dispute
    • Someone in the household lost a job because of Covid-19

Latinx and younger people have been especially hard hit economically by this pandemic, and their economic woes may explain why they are reluctant to compensate plaintiffs beyond economic damages. Someone who is in a household where someone lost a job because of Covid-19 is in the same position, and their economic adversity may make it difficult for them to compensate others for suffering when they are suffering as well.  

Republicans and those who favored corporations tend to want to limit non-economic damages generally, and this pandemic has not changed that worldview.

Agree should pay very little if anything for emotional distress and suffering

Latinx 51%
White 45%
Asian  41%
Black 37%
18-30 years 57%
31-50 years 47%
51 and older 31%
Men 50%
Women 38%
Republicans 58%
Democrats  40%
  • 63% of those who favored corporations in a dispute agreed to pay very little if anything for emotional distress compared to only 41% of those who favored the individual.
  • 54% of those who lost a job because of Covid-19 agreed compared to 40% who did not.
  • Whereas only 35% of those with Covid or suspected they had Covid agreed (compared to 44% who did not have Covid). Although those respondents who had Covid-19 were more likely to decrease damages if they thought the current economy would influence their award, they may be more sensitive to emotional distress and suffering, having experienced a major illness recently.

When asked about specific amounts of damages, respondents chose among responses ranging from 0 to more than $2 million. 73% who agreed the defendant should pay very little if anything for emotional distress said $250,000 or less.  43% said less than $100,000. The respondents were not given a case scenario or exposed to any monetary anchors, so the amount is less important than the fact that nearly three-quarters of the respondents chose amounts at the lower end of the monetary scale.

Attitudes About Corporations

  • 73% agreed During the Covid-19 pandemic, too many corporations put profit over the safety of their workers
    • Not surprisingly, those who favored individuals in a dispute were more likely to agree strongly with this statement (favored individuals, 29%; and favored corporations, 19%);
    • While those who favored corporations were more likely to disagree strongly (favored corporations, 17%, and favored individuals, 4%).
    • Those whose income declined because of Covid-19 were also more likely to agree strongly (31%) than those whose income did not decline (25%).

Attitudes About Mask Regulations

  • 72% disagreed that Local governments requiring people to wear face masks in public is government overreach.  Those who thought it was government overreach tended to favor corporations and be Republican.
    • Those who favored corps (29%) were more likely to agree strongly than those who favored individuals (10%)
    • 46% of Republicans agreed, while only 23% of Democrats agreed.


Attitudes About Social Distancing

  • 84% think Americans should continue social distancing even if it means damage to the economy, with 86% of those who favored the individual agreeing, compared to only 69% of those favored corporations. 
  • In contrast, 16% think to stimulate the economy we should relax social distancing.
    • 31% of those who favored corporations agreed, compared to 14% who favored the individual. 
    • 35% of Republicans agreed compared to 9% of Democrats.
    • And those who lost a job (20%) were more likely to agree than those who did not (15%). 

For more information, contact:

NJP LITIGATION CONSULTING/West

NJP.com           510-832-2583

CBauss@njp.com or LHeaney@njp.com    

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