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Variability in Jury Awards for Noneconomic Damages in Motor Vehicle Negligence Cases

By Max Cherman  

I analyze the efficiency of jury awards for noneconomic compensatory damages awarded to automobile accident victims suffering nonfatal injuries bringing motor vehicle negligence tort claims. Data from 1002 Jury Verdict Research (JVR) case abstracts was narrowed down to 218 observations of plaintiffs receiving noneconomic damages awards at trials involving motor vehicle negligence from 1988-2019 across the United States. Using age-specific value of life estimations, functional capacity losses associated with plaintiffs’ injuries, and productivity losses, I estimate an ‘expected’ noneconomic damages award that serves as a benchmark against which I compare observed awards. I regress the natural log of the ratio of observed to ‘expected’ awards on injury- severity-level indicator variables and other controls, thus attempting to find whether juries award disproportionately high or low noneconomic damages awards in accordance with plaintiff, defendant, or case-specific factors. I conclude that juries award disproportionate noneconomic damages at the opposite ends of the injury severity spectrum, with plaintiffs suffering severe injuries receiving disproportionately high awards. I also find that juries punish business and government entity plaintiffs. These results serve as evidence that jury decision-making is indeed significantly impacted by hindsight bias in large-value cases and attempts to punish supposedly wealthier defendants, creating inconsistency (variability) in compensatory damages award determinations.

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Advisors: Professor Christopher Timmins, Professor Kent Kimbrough | JEL Codes: K1, K13, Q51

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