Have you ever wondered how does a jury come up with its award when a personal injury lawsuit goes to trial? In order to make its decision, the jurors have to review the evidence that was presented in the trial, and consider the law that applies to the case. But is evidence the only thing a jury is influenced by?
What Creates an Emotional Appeal to the Jury?
The following types of evidence almost always helps create an emotional appeal to the jury:
- a serious, permanent injury (juries will award more money for a devastating permanent injury like paralysis than for a wrongful death case)
an injury to a child
- pictures (but not too many pictures) of the injury
- proof that the defendant or the defendant’s witnesses lied about how the accident happened, or that they tried to cover up how their negligence caused the injury, and a nice, pleasant plaintiff with a good family
Defense attorneys do not like trying cases with strong emotional appeals because they know that juries can (and will) be swayed by such appeals and will often give large awards.
Other Factors That Influence Juries
The following types of factors are commonly seen to motivate or influence a jury:
- sociology-economic factors like a juror’s income, education, and occupation
- age, gender, and life experiences
- political beliefs or ideology
Applying the Law: Jury Instructions vs. Emotional Appeal
Judges give juries lengthy jury instructions. They generally give these instructions at the end of the trial, but some judges give some of the instructions at the beginning or in the middle of the trial. All judges give their instructions orally, but many judges now also give a copy of the instructions to the jurors in writing.
The instructions cover every aspect of the jury’s deliberations. They explain how the jurors should deliberate, how they should analyze the witnesses and the evidence, and then explain the law of the case in detail.
The judge will explain the law of negligence in general, and then discuss the specific laws that apply to that trial. If, for example, the trial was a car accident that occurred at an intersection with a two way stop sign, the judge will instruct the jury on the law of stop signs, and which driver has the right of way in that particular incident.
Most significantly, judges will instruct jurors that they must make their decision strictly according to the law. They must apply the law as it is given to them, even if they don’t agree with the law, and they must not be swayed by emotion. This is a fundamental principle of our jury system. Appellate courts, in reviewing jury verdicts, assume that the jurors indeed applied the law as the trial judge explained it to them, and assume that the jurors applied the law to the facts in a relatively unemotional manner.
Nevertheless, human nature tells us that jurors will follow their hearts, at least a little (and sometimes a lot), in considering the evidence at a trial and especially in personal injury trials. Jurors will apply common sense to their verdict and will be swayed by human nature. Plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyers know that, and know that, if their case contains a strong emotional appeal to the jury, they have a better chance of winning.
How Do Jurors Decide Pain and Suffering?
That is the big question. It is easy for juries to decide medical bills and lost earnings because they are damages that can be calculated. But how do you calculate someone else’s pain and suffering? It’s a tough task, made even harder because the judge’s instructions to the jury typically do not go into too much detail about how the jury should determine damages for pain and suffering.
Many judges do not say too much more about pain and suffering other than the jurors must use their own good sense, background, and experience in determining what would be a fair and reasonable figure to compensate the plaintiff for pain and suffering. And this is what the jurors will do. They will think about how they would like it if someone negligently did to them what the defendant did to the plaintiff. They will think about how much money they would want if they had the same injuries as the plaintiff. Then they will arrive at a consensus among themselves, and that will be their verdict.