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Population demographics and jury trial outcomes, Race effects in civil trial awards, Bronx effect, Empirical legal studies


Applied Statistics | Civil Procedure | Law and Society


Minorities favor injured plaintiffs and give them inflated awards. This folk wisdom in the legal community influences choice of trial locale and the screening of jurors. A Los Angeles court is said to be known by local lawyers as "the bank" because of the frequency and size of its anti-corporate awards. A newspaper article summarizing court results suggests, somewhat jokingly, that the "Bronx County Courthouse should post a warning: People who get sued here run an increased risk of suffering staggering losses." Beliefs about the influence of factors other than race, such as income and urbanization, also are common.

This Article tests these beliefs by studying the mass of tried cases. It analyzes damages awards and plaintiff win rates at trials in both federal and state courts for tort cases, products liability cases, and employment cases. Although award levels and win rates differ significantly across geographic areas, these differences often do not uniformly reflect the folk wisdom about demographic influences. In federal court trials, we find no robust evidence that award levels in cases won by plaintiffs correlate with population demographics in the expected direction. Indeed, one persistent result is a negative relation between award levels and black population percentages.

With respect to plaintiff win rates in federal trials, we again find no robust evidence that local demographics help explain trial outcomes in the mass of cases. We do, however, find a significant correlation between larger black population percentages and the likelihood of a plaintiff trial win in urban job discrimination, products liability, and tort cases.

In state court trials, we again find no robust evidence (at traditional levels of statistical significance) that race, income, or urbanization substantially help explain award levels. Poverty rates do have marginally significant correlations with increased award levels in tort and employment cases. And plaintiff win rates do correlate positively with poverty rates in state court tort cases, but this effect does not emerge in products liability or employment cases. Overall, we find little evidence of consistent demographic effects on trial outcomes.

Publication Citation

Published in: Texas Law Review, vol. 80, no. 7 (June 2002).