Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2000


Jury awards, Connective tissue injuries, Automobile accidents, Civil Trial Court Network Project, Whiplash claims, Insurance misbehavior


Insurance Law | Legal Remedies | Litigation | Torts | Transportation Law


Cases involving automobile accidents comprise a substantial portion of the personal injury bar's work, insurance defense work, and the state jury trial caseload. Researchers for the Civil Trial Court Network Project at the National Center for State Courts estimate that sixty percent of all tort cases filed are automobile cases. Furthermore, the researchers estimate that forty-two percent of all tort jury trials held in state courts of general jurisdiction are automobile cases. Many of these trials result in low to moderate jury awards. The median award in automobile cases is $29,000, well below the median award of $51,000 for all tort cases combined and dwarfed by the median award of $201,000 in medical malpractice cases. Despite the ubiquity of the humble auto accident trial, minimal research has been conducted on how juries or the public respond to issues and evidence in these types of trials. Scholarly research has focused much more on high-profile, but less frequent, civil litigation such as medical malpractice, business lawsuits, and product liability trials.

This Article reports early results from an ongoing research project designed to examine how juries and the public perceive and evaluate minor injury claims resulting from automobile accidents. The project focuses particularly on connective tissue injury cases stemming from automobile accidents. Traditionally, such cases have been resolved by settlements between the injured plaintiffs and the at-fault drivers' insurance companies. Because settlement discussions rest on assumptions about how juries are likely to respond to the trials, the issue of communicating with juries in connective tissue injury lawsuits is of great practical interest.

The connective tissue injury lawsuit is intriguing on theoretical grounds as well. Precisely because it is difficult to document the existence and seriousness of the injuries through X-ray techniques and other traditional medical tests, these cases present a challenge to jurors and to litigators. There is reason to expect that a plaintiff's attorney would face some serious challenges in a connective tissue injury lawsuit. Jurors in certain cases show an anti-plaintiff bias, ascribing partial responsibility to plaintiffs who are legally blameless. A defense attorney also faces challenges in connective tissue injury cases. What the defense attorney and the plaintiff's attorney share is a joint disadvantage in attempting to predict how jurors will perceive the issues and evidence. The focus of this research project is on employing multiple methods to assess how jurors and the public view connective tissue injury claims arising from automobile accidents. The goal of the research program is to develop a comprehensive picture of how jurors decide car accident cases involving connective tissue injuries.

Publication Citation

Published in: Tennessee Law Review, vol. 67, no. 3 (Spring 2000).