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Effects of Injury Severity on Jury Negligence Decisions

NCJ Number
Law and Human Behavior Volume: 23 Issue: 6 Dated: December 1999 Pages: 675-693
Edith Green; Michael Johns; Jason Bowman
Date Published
December 1999
19 pages
According to the laws of negligence, jurors' liability decisions are to be influenced by the defendant's conduct, but not by the severity of the plaintiff's injuries; this jury simulation study assessed whether jurors in fact reason in this manner.
The participants were 417 jury-eligible adults who ranged in age from 18 to 79 years. Participants were 64 percent female and 86 percent white. There were 16 juries (between 101 and 113 individual jurors) in each of the four cells of the design. Jury size ranged from five to eight individuals. The study design was a 2 x 2 between-subjects factorial. The study simulated a simple automobile negligence case that involved only one plaintiff and a noncorporate defendant. The facts were taken from an actual case. The defendant was driving a tractor-trailer loaded with 22 tons of asphalt through a construction zone on an interstate highway. He lost control of his truck and crashed into the median, causing the front axle to become dislodged and fly through the air. It landed on a small truck being driven in the opposite direction by the plaintiff, resulting in serious injuries to the plaintiff. The plaintiff sued the truck driver for negligence and sought compensatory damages. Jurors completed predeliberation questionnaires, deliberated to a verdict, and answered postdeliberation questionnaires. Findings show that the defendant's conduct had a strong impact on liability judgments, but evidence related to injury severity also had an effect, albeit smaller. These findings are analyzed in the context of various cognitive and motivational theories. 8 tables and 22 references


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