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Civil jury reforms, Civil trials, Jury innovations, Empirical jury studies, Jury bias, Jury competence


Civil Procedure | Litigation


In January 2003, President George W. Bush invoked the supposed failings of the civil jury as the rationale for sweeping changes to the civil justice system. In a speech given at the University of Scranton, in Pennsylvania, a state where skyrocketing costs of medical malpractice insurance had created a political crisis, President Bush said, "Excessive jury awards will continue to drive up insurance costs, will put good doctors out of Scranton, Pa." Among the changes he proposed were a decrease in the time that patients would have to sue their doctors, a national cap on pain and suffering awards at $250,000, and a limit on punitive damages."

Mr. Bush's speech was only the most recent in a long line of attacks on the functioning of the American civil jury. We can identify several distinct criticisms of the civil jury. First is the broadly shared presumption that civil jurors are highly sympathetic to plaintiffs who bring lawsuits and tend to be hostile to corporate and insurance defendants. A second charge is that civil jurors have serious problems comprehending trial evidence and legal instructions, particularly in complex cases and trials with expert witnesses. Compensatory awards by juries are subject to criticism as well; they are seen as erratic and unpredictable, and usually too high, although in some circumstances juries are accused of being too stingy. Finally, the jury's involvement in punitive damages has come under concerted attack. Critics claim that juries determine punitive damages in a capricious and arbitrary manner, that juries are unable to translate their punishment desires into dollar figures consistently and fairly, and that juries consider legally inappropriate factors.

In addition to the Bush administration's proposals for national limits on pain and suffering and punitive damages, some commentators have suggested that civil juries should be more tightly controlled in the types of evidence that they may hear. In addition to changes that have or would limit the civil jury, other proposed modifications are aimed at improving the representative nature and function of the jury. These include changing jury selection methods to achieve more representative juries, altering jury structure to enable more efficient decisionmaking, and modifying trial practices to promote jury competence.

Publication Citation

Published in: Notre Dame Law Review, vol. 78, no. 5 (August 2003).