Race, The Economy, And Jury Verdicts

I just finished a one-day jury trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, and I got killed. I am forcing myself to blog about this because I think it is dishonest for attorney bloggers to only write about the wins. Nobody wins all the time.

This outcome was surprising to me for two reasons. First, I had what I considered to be a great case for the kind of case it was. Second, I had a very credible client and damages witness.

This was a damages case. The defendant driver was on his way home from work, and switched lanes to get out from behind a box truck, without seeing what was in the lane he changed into. He rear-ended my client, who was stopped for a red light, and pushed her into the vehicle in front of her. There are good photos of the vehicle damage.

She had bruised ribs and a sprained left hip. She went to the hospital by ambulance and followed up with a private doctor and physical therapist. After ten weeks of treatment overall, there were no fractures and no permanency. I also thought the non-economic damages claim was pretty compelling. The client was on her way to her oldest daughter’s wedding dress fitting and missed it because of the accident and was in pain for the bridal shower the next weekend and the wedding two weeks later.

Economic damages were $168.00 car rental. The medical bills were $5125.00, and there was a $1400.00 lost wage claim for two weeks off of work. I liked this case a lot. The jury gave the rental bill, the medicals, and $2100.00 for non-economic damages. Total verdict $7,123.00. That is less than the last settlement offer of $10k. I was shocked.

My client was a very nice, college-educated African-American lady who works as a computer technician, and the damages witness was her long-time friend, another African-American lady who works at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

I wonder whether race had a subconscious effect on my all-white jury. I don’t think anyone would intentionally be influenced by race as a juror, but I always wonder in these situations if there is a more subtle bias that affects the outcome. I wonder if any studies have been done about this? I will have to look to see if I can learn more about the topic.

I also wonder how much the economy has been affecting jury verdicts. I think it is possible that jurors are more reluctant to make damages awards because so many people are facing hard times with no help available. Is a juror who just had a family member laid off, and who is missing a day of work to be on jury duty going to be disposed to making a good damages award? I don’t think so.

Obviously, I hate to lose. This is when I remind myself that Ted Williams is generally regarded as the greatest hitter in the history of professional baseball. He is in the Hall of Fame. He also failed to get a hit 60% of the time.

  • Here’s a study that found that jury race does impact convictions in felony cases.