Business on Trial

Business on Trial: The Civil Jury and Corporate Responsibility

VALERIE P. HANS
Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bqvb
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  • Book Info
    Business on Trial
    Book Description:

    Are jury verdicts in business trials influenced less by a corporation's negligence than by sympathy for the plaintiffs, prejudice against business, and a belief in the corporation's "deep pockets"? Many members of the public and corporate executives believe that this is so, and they feel that the jury's decision making presents serious problems for American business competitiveness and its justice system. This book-the first to provide a systematic account of how juries make decisions in typical business cases-shows that these assumptions are false or exaggerated.Drawing on interviews with civil jurors, experiments with mock jurors, and public opinion polling, Valerie P. Hans explores how jurors determine whether businesses should be held responsible for an injury. She finds that many civil jurors, rather than being overly sympathetic to plaintiffs who bring civil lawsuits, are often hostile to them, that there are only occasional instances of anti-business prejudice, and that there is no evidence of the deep-pockets hypothesis. Hans concludes that jurors do treat businesses differently than individuals, but this is because the public has higher expectations of corporations and more rigorous standards for their conduct.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14386-7
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 THE DEBATE OVER THE JURY’S ROLE IN BUSINESS CASES
    (pp. 1-21)

    In 1987 Georgia farmer William Lawson was pleased to learn from the salesman at his local supply store that an improved version of the fungicide Benlate, called Benlate DF, had become available. For twenty years Lawson had been using the original version of Benlate successfully at his Bush Ranch, where he grew juniper bushes. He quickly ordered the new product. Lawson had a good deal of confidence in the fungicide’s manufacturer, E. I. DuPont de Nemours and Company. So when some of his juniper bushes began to sicken and die, he did not at first think to blame the new...

  5. 2 BLAMING THE VICTIM IN CIVIL LAWSUITS AGAINST BUSINESS
    (pp. 22-49)

    There is a widespread presumption that juries are naturally sympathetic to injured plaintiffs, particularly those hurt by the actions of a business corporation. The assumption goes back a long way. In the mid-nineteenth century, Judge Barculo observed inHaring v. New York and Erie Railroad(1852): “We can not shut our eyes to the fact than in certain controversies between the weak and the strong—between a humble individual and a gigantic corporation, the sympathies of the human mind naturally, honestly, and generously, run to the assistance and support of the feeble, and apparently oppressed; and that compassion will sometimes...

  6. 3 “SUE-CRAZY”: CITIZENS’ ATTITUDES ABOUT CIVIL LITIGATION
    (pp. 50-78)

    A recurring theme in the comments jurors made during their interviews was that there is far too much litigation in the United States. People are “sue-crazy,” jurors claim, and the practice of turning seemingly every dispute into a legal action threatens to endanger the central institutions of our society. As one juror I interviewed put it: “I am not one for lawsuits. I think it’s ridiculous. I was involved in an accident; it wasn’t my fault by any means. I probably could have cleaned up on it, I know I could have cleaned up on it. Everybody from my parents...

  7. 4 THE PERSONHOOD OF THE CORPORATION
    (pp. 79-111)

    Moving from a focus on plaintiffs and the merits of their claims, I turn to an examination of how jurors judge the responsibility—and civil liability—of a business corporation. The century-long expansion of business liability has created many opportunities for the lay public to judge corporations, but in fact we know little about how jurors approach their task, how they consider the causal roles and responsibilities of corporate actors and business corporations.

    I draw on the interviews with jurors, as well as the results of several experiments, to present a picture of what jurors do when they attempt to...

  8. 5 A DIFFERENT STANDARD FOR CORPORATIONS
    (pp. 112-137)

    I now turn from the theme of similarity—that is, how corporations are like individuals—to consider more explicitly how corporations are distinctive entities that deserve unique and differential treatment. This chapter explores citizens’ beliefs about the standards that are appropriate for the evaluation of corporate conduct, and presents the reasons people give for treating business corporations differently than individual defendants in the courtroom.

    Some sociologists believe that the distinctive nature of the corporation requires unique treatment. Perhaps the most influential scholar to espouse this view is James Coleman, whose bookThe Asymmetric Societypresents evidence of the dominance of...

  9. 6 ARE JURORS ANTI-BUSINESS?
    (pp. 138-177)

    We can now examine whether the differential treatment of the corporation that I documented in earlier chapters can be traced to anti-business sentiment among jurors.¹ Business leaders often assume the worst about juries: that they are hostile to business corporations and more prone to sympathize with the injured plaintiffs than with the men and women of the corporation. Indeed, many business executives appear to share the views of the veteran business lawyer George McGunnigle, Jr., who argues that jurors’ unrealistic expectations of business people, their naivete and lack of experience in the business world, and the good old tradition of...

  10. 7 THE ROBIN HOOD JURY
    (pp. 178-214)

    Perhaps no belief about the civil jury in business cases is as widespread as the assumption that it approaches its task as a modern-day Robin Hood, bent on transferring wealth from the rich defendant to the poor plaintiff. Lawyers, business leaders, and policy makers all consider it a truism that juries take the finances of business corporations into account both when deciding liability and when determining how much to award in damages. Jurors are said to penalize corporations for their financial resources, using them as deep pockets from which to compensate undeserving plaintiffs. Writer Peter Huber claims that juries, along...

  11. 8 MYTHS AND REALITIES OF THE CIVIL JURY IN BUSINESS CASES
    (pp. 215-228)

    Recall some of the arguments for why the civil jury should not decide cases with business parties:

    “Juries face accidents up close, viewing them in the lurid setting of an individual tragedy already completed. . . . The only human reaction to the individual tragedy viewed close up, is unbounded generosity, which any large corporation or insurer can surely afford to underwrite.”¹

    “The presence of juries increases the lottery aspects of the tort system. Skillful plaintiffs’ attorneys may select only the most appealing clients, and focus their efforts primarily on mobilizing the sympathy of the jury. . . . The...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 229-262)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 263-269)