Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Summer 2001

Keywords

Civil juries, Civil trials, Corporate responsibility

Disciplines

Corporation and Enterprise Law | Labor and Employment Law | Litigation

Abstract

Some people argue that the civil jury is in decline. They argue that it's not really so important to be focusing on jurors and jurors' views about corporate responsibility as it might have been in prior times. I want to raise some arguments in favor of the continuing importance of the civil jury. First of all, the cases that juries try may be very important cases in terms of the company and in terms of the role of the company vis-a-vis government regulation. Jurors are symbolic representatives of the public in the courtroom. Finding out what juries do when they look at the facts of the case, a missing memo, or a corporate executive explaining a memo, can give the parties an idea about what laypeople generally think about corporate action. Most important, the fact that we have a jury in some cases makes a difference in all the rest of the cases in the civil docket that settle rather than go to trial. Civil jury trial verdicts send signals to lawyers, judges, and companies about how the public perceives corporate behavior. So, in my view, it's important to take a look at how juries think about issues of corporate responsibility in part to get a sense of public understanding of it and in part to understand how a jury might decide a specific case.

From one perspective, the civil jury is seen as a modern-day Robin Hood. The civil jury is thought to be extraordinarily pro-plaintiff and quite anti-business. It is said to operate with a deep pockets approach. I put some of these beliefs about the jury to the test. In a nutshell, I found that the widespread beliefs about the civil jury in business cases are nearly as mythic as Robin Hood. In contrast to prevailing beliefs, the jurors I interviewed surprised me by being rather tough on plaintiffs who bring cases against businesses and corporations. Second, and this was also something of a surprise, I didn't find a lot of anti-business prejudice.

I asked participants in all of my studies a question about the appropriate standard for corporate responsibility: Should corporations be held to a higher standard of responsibility compared to individuals? I found that a number of people believed in similar treatment for individuals and corporations, with a substantial number also believing that corporations should be held to a higher standard. Jurors do treat corporations differently, but not for the reasons commonly believed. Jurors don't treat corporations differently because they are overly sympathetic to plaintiffs, or because they have some sort of pre-existing animus against the corporate form or business in society. Rather, it appears that a corporation's size, potential impact, organizational resources, or role responsibility encourage jurors to impose a higher level of responsibility.

Publication Citation

Published in: Marquette Law Review, vol. 84, no. 4 (Summer 2001).