Thursday, July 07, 2011

Jury awards for pain and suffering

A paper by Cass Sunstein (Harvard B-School prof and currently in Obama administration) has some interesting insights into jury awards for pain and suffering.  It turns out, they usually have it backwards.  The kinds of injuries/conditions that people tend to get used to over time are the ones that juries see as very salient and so they make big awards.  This includes things like lost limbs.  But over time, the injured starts focusing on other things.  When eating a good meal, you can forget about a lost leg for a while.

On the other hand, chronic issues that we never habituate to are underestimated by juries and get small pain and suffering awards.  Things like chronic pain continue to ruin that good meal for the rest of your life.  But it is less salient to juries, so the awards are smaller.

He recommends creating guidelines based on a series of detailed studies that measure (at a general level) how bad different kinds of injuries/conditions are over time and creating award guidelines that reflect the experience the injured party will really go through, not just what it seems like to an ignorant jury.

Something I had never though about.  But it makes sense.  For a deeper and broader analysis, here is a Yale Law School prize winning paper on the topic.

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