Public opinion and jury selection
Jury selection (really deselection) is more art than science and involves at least as much luck as skill. However, the public attitudes of a time and place are a factor. That’s why I read public opinion surveys with a great deal of interest.
From June 28 to July 3, 2007, Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc., conducted a national telephone survey for the American Association for Justice among 1,007 likely 2008 voters (margin of error equals ±3.2 percentage points). The survey explored voters’ attitudes toward the civil justice system and the impact of civil justice issues on voting preferences. A few key points related to the work we do for our clients in court:
- 82% are worried about the outlook for the American middle class
- 76% worry about the future facing the average working person
- 54% feels worried about the outlook for themselves and their family
- 74% believe that large corporations should give priority to being fair and responsible in dealing with their consumers and employees over looking out for the bottom line
- only 13% say that being fair and responsible is actually corporations’ priority today while 81% say it’s the bottom line.
- 83% feel companies should give priority to consumers and workers but just 7% believe this occurs today
- 70% say that making sure corporations are held accountable when their actions harm consumers, employees, or communities should be a much higher priority for the civil justice system than limiting the amount of compensation that juries can award for pain and suffering
- Only three voters in 10 trust large corporations when it comes to being fair and responsible in looking out for the interests of consumers (28%) or employees (30%).
- Worried swing voters offer an even more critical view, with just 19% confident that corporations look out for consumers (81% a little or not much trust) and 16% confident about fair and responsible treatment of employees (82% little/not much trust).
- 64% say corporations giving huge salaries and bonuses to CEOs, while cutting the jobs and benefits of employees (76% among worried swings)
- 64% express concern about corporations defaulting on pension obligations, even when top executives continue to get large retirement packages (74% among worried swings)
- 62% are concerned about health insurance companies and HMOs refusing to pay for medical treatments, even when doctors said they are necessary
- 54% say insurance companies refuse to pay settlements even in cases where they have clear obligation to do so
- Voters choose fair compensation over placing caps on plaintiffs’ compensation by 69% to 25%, and over reducing “frivolous lawsuits” by 60% to 32%.
It is interesting to contrast these results with responses on the messages the insurance industry and others have been trying to sell to the public for years:
- Only 34% say that trial lawyers make too much money when they successfully represent a client in a lawsuit
- Only 24% say victims in cases involving personal injury or medical malpractice are receiving too much money from juries
These two items rank at the very bottom of voters’ concerns, behind all 11 examples of corporate misconduct included in this question. Clearly, Americans’ concern about “lawsuit abuse” is greatly eclipsed today by their concern over corporate abuse of consumers,
employees, and shareholders.
Of course, those of us who try cases for a living know that it only takes one bad juror to ruin the jury and the case for a deserving injury victim, so we still have to be extremely diligent in discerning the true feelings of potential jurors who may not be eager to tell lawyers what they really think.
The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a "SuperLawyer" in Atlanta Magazine and one of the "Legal Elite" in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks.