Psychology and Law: An Empirical Perspective

By Neil Brewer; Kipling D. Williams | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER ELEVEN
The Psychology of Jury
and Juror Decision Making

LORA M. LEVETT

ERIN M. DANIELSEN

MARGARET BULL KOVERA

BRIAN L. CUTLER

In 1988, the Carmichael family was involved in a car accident that killed one family member and injured seven others. The family sued the tire manufacturer, and the result was the landmark case Kumho Tire v. Carmichael (1999). In Kuhmo, a tire failure expert was called to testify on behalf of the plaintiff. The defense argued that the testimony was inadmissible under current standards for admitting expert testimony, and the plaintiff argued that those standards did not apply. The U.S. Supreme Court heard the case, and the competence of jurors to evaluate expert testimony was called in to question. How do jurors evaluate experts? Are they able to understand technical testimony? Or do they defer to the expert, deciding in favor of whichever side the expert represents? Psychologists weighed in on both sides of the debate, filing amicus curiae briefs about the competence of juries as decision makers (see Vidmar et al., 2000). Two arguments emerged. One side viewed jurors as competent decision makers, and the other viewed jurors as biased against wealthy defendants and corporations in civil cases and asserted that jurors have a natural tendency to defer to experts (Vidmar et al., 2000). Who is correct? Are jurors competent decision makers?

There is no question that juries have made decisions that others may find controversial or outrageous. For example, in one well-known lawsuit, Liebeck v. McDonald's (1992), a jury awarded $2.9 million to a woman who was burned when she spilled coffee from a McDonald's restaurant in her lap. In

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