A poll recently released by the Defense Research Institute found that an overwhelming majority of respondents found that our civil courts are fair.
Check out the DRI’s release here. Note that the headline says “41% Doubt Fairness of Civil Courts” when the article explains that 58% expressed confidence in court decisions.
There are other interesting nuggets here as well. 83% said that the side with the most money for lawyers usually wins. That’s really interesting in terms of personal injury litigation, where generally only one side has money for lawyers, and the other side only has a lawyer at all because of the existence of a contingent fee agreement.
57 to 59 percent said that they would tend to favor an individual in a dispute with an insurance, oil or financial company.
Every day we battle the misperception that our clients are out for “jackpot justice” from a jury system that is out of control. The poll results reflected this. 48% thought juries made decisions based on personal opinion rather than the facts and the law. A full 69% thought that judges base their decisions on the facts and the law and not personal opinion.
Here’s the interesting part: 64% said that they would prefer a jury trial to a bench trial. Even though I’m not a statistician, I can see that at least some of these numbers don’t seem to be consistent. I will leave that discussion for people who are more proficient at math than I am. There’s a reason I am a personal injury lawyer and not an economist.
What I think the data means is that most regular people, with their own case on the line, place their faith in the ability of regular citizens like them to reach a just result. Even if some of the time they think that just result is reached based on emotion and not just the facts and the law.
As an added bonus, 75% saw jury duty as a civic duty and not as a burden, and 81% of those who had served said the experience was a positive one. I’m not sure these statistics would hold up if people were polled the day they go notice of jury duty. But these numbers are pretty encouraging. I think much of the issue of people’s perception of fairness in civil courts stems from a lack of familiarity. I’d like to see the responses on the perceptions of fairness if the data were compiled solely from the responses of those who had participated in a civil case as a party or as a juror. The DRI website has some links to more specific data than the press release contains, but it doesn’t look like the data were sorted that way.