Is There a Deep-Pocket Bias in the Tort System?

The Concern over Biases Against Deep-Pocket Defendants

by Robert J. MacCoun

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There is a wide-spread perception that America’s tort system is biased against so-called deep-pocket defendants — defendants such as corporations, governments, and wealthy individuals who have extensive financial resources. This paper summarizes what we know and don’t know about deep-pocket biases. Both archival analyses of twenty years of verdicts in Cook county, Illinois, and mock jury experimentation indicate that in similar cases, juries do treat corporations differently from individuals. Juries are more likely to find corporations liable and award plaintiffs more money. However, other mock jury experiments show that rich individuals are treated more like poor individuals than like corporations. Thus, jurors do treat corporations differently, but not because of wealth. Future research is necessary to clarify what causes juries to treat corporations differently.

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