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Juries and Child Death Cases

NCJ Number
Case and Comment Volume: 94 Issue: 6 Dated: (November-December 1989) Pages: 3-4,6-9
A Abbott; F Heckman
Date Published
6 pages
This article reports on research designed to determine how jurors award damages in child death cases.
Three separate mock juries were empaneled. The panels represented a cross-section of individuals who serve on juries in a metropolitan area on the West Coast. Each of the mock juries was shown videotapes describing three variations of typical child death cases. Liability was conceded by the defendant in each case. After the videotape of each case was shown to the jury, the jurors were asked to respond to questionnaires that measured their perceptions, attitudes, and decisions as to initial damage awards. The questionnaires provided baseline information on the jurors' initial responses to the facts of each case. Then, the jurors met and deliberated in order to set a final damage award for each case. Jury deliberations were observed through a one-way mirror and videotaped for later analysis. Because liability was conceded, jurors were given few facts about the causes of the child's death, except that it was caused by physician negligence. Even so, the jurors were unusually curious about the kind of negligence that caused the child's death, and they speculated about the causes freely, often suspecting the very worst behavior on the part of the negligent doctor. The study also showed that in order to believe in a just world, most jurors blamed the defendants for the child's death, while some speculated that the child behaved in ways that led to the tragedy. Jurors used harm avoidance or blame avoidance to affiliate with or distance themselves from the harm done. Jurors using harm avoidance gave high damage awards to surviving plaintiffs. 8 footnotes.