Understanding the Impact of COVID on Jury Decision-Making

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The repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic have been far-reaching, affecting the day-to-day lives of most Americans, impacting the operations of most businesses, and reshaping America’s courtrooms. While some individuals have been more or less affected than others, with such vast disruption, many individuals have experienced increased stress, uncertainty, and other symptoms of psychological distress. These types of stressors and changes can also affect jury decision-making.

Research shows that individuals who are stressed and fearful will often become more polarized, will tend to choose familiar options when making a decision, and will catalyze the fight or flight response mode. With the unique stressors placed on individuals due to the pandemic, litigation teams must be aware of the potential risks they could face due to changing juror beliefs and juror behaviors. 

Courtroom Sciences can help trial attorneys evaluate risk and stay on top of the changes in civil jurors’ attitudes and decision-making. While no one knows for certain what the long-term effects of the pandemic will be, Courtroom Sciences is here to help mitigate risk by providing expert litigation resources that lead to superior outcomes.

How has the coronavirus pandemic changed civil jury trials?

Living through the stress and anxiety of the Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly had a profound psychological effect on jurors, affecting everything from their emotional states to their willingness to serve. Some experts have predicted that changing social conditions and juror beliefs could result in jurors who are galvanized to help plaintiffs. Due to pandemic-related concerns, some prospective jurors concerned about contracting COVID-19 may seek to be excused from jury service which could shape the panel of prospective jurors.  


Jurors’ Mental Health

Research has shown that jurors experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues are generally more inclined to favor plaintiffs than those who are not. There could then be a concern that the experience of living through the pandemic could result in widespread changes in juror behavior, with many more sympathetic jurors who are motivated to help plaintiffs and punish defendants. 

Both anxiety and stress are known for exhausting cognitive resources and thereby increasing the likelihood that a juror will engage in heuristic or experiential information processing mode, also referred to as an intuitive mode. When in this intuitive processing mode, jurors cannot carefully consider all of the evidence and testimony being presented to them; instead, they may rely on their initial reactions as well as mental shortcuts to reach a decision quickly. As an example, a juror may assume that because a lawsuit made it all the way to court that the defendant must have done something wrong.

In comparison, individuals less affected by stress or anxiety or who are better able to manage these emotions are more likely to engage in rational or logical processing, where they are motivated to process information carefully. When a juror is able to deliberately analyze the information, they are more likely to reach a logical conclusion, which is favorable for most defendants.

While a juror who is experiencing stress or mental health issues is not automatically a plaintiff juror, defense litigation teams must be aware of the effects the pandemic may have had on jurors’ health and emotional states. Courtroom Sciences can help legal teams learn how to identify prospective jurors whose decision-making may be impacted by COVID-related issues.


Jurors’ Perceptions of Corporations and Industries

The pandemic has undoubtedly influenced individual juror perceptions, and that may include how jurors view specific businesses. A juror who believes that businesses did not do enough to protect their workers or the economy may hold an unfavorable view of corporations, while a juror who feels businesses stepped up to support their employees may hold a more favorable view. 

While, in general, there seems to have been an increasingly favorable view of healthcare workers, frontline employees, and support for small businesses, the perceptions of corporations and corporate defendants have been more mixed, and the likely result is that jurors will simply become more polarized in their existing beliefs. This means that jurors who were previously anti-corporation will likely retain that position and perhaps become more anti-corporation. Defense teams should expect jurors to become more extreme in their beliefs and more adamant defenders of those beliefs. 

This will make it critical for defense counsel to try to ascertain the answers to two specific questions: 

1 - To what extent has the coronavirus affected jurors’ perceptions of my client?

2 - To what extent will these perceptions affect trial outcomes?

Courtroom Sciences can help litigators and their teams in developing evidence-based, highly strategic inquiries and detailed plans for voir dire in order to select the most advantageous jurors for your case.


The Impact of the Pandemic on Jury Decision-Making

Even as the pandemic impacts jurors’ mental health and their perceptions of corporations and industries, evidence suggests that the crisis alone will not lead to a substantial increase in either plaintiff verdicts or damages awarded in typical civil cases. 

As COVID-19 continues to remain a threat, it appears that it will be some time before civil trials can proceed without pandemic-related modifications. Moving forward, litigation teams must continue to evaluate both the advantages and disadvantages of a civil jury trial amid the coronavirus pandemic. As part of the legal team, Courtroom Sciences can help mitigate uncertainty by providing expert resources and science-backed data that lead to predictive results and favorable settlement or trial outcomes. Speak with one of our experts to get started. 


Key Takeaways

●  Litigation teams must be aware of the potential risks they could face due to changing juror beliefs, behaviors, and decision-making. 

●  Due to the pandemic, many jurors have experienced increased stress, uncertainty, and other symptoms of psychological distress.

●  The pandemic has influenced individual juror perceptions of corporations and industries. 

●  Courtroom Sciences can help mitigate uncertainty by providing expert resources and science-backed data that lead to favorable litigation outcomes.

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