The Perception of Justice

Tort Litigants' Views of Trial, Court-Annexed Arbitration, and Judicial Settlement Conferences

by Edgar Lind, Robert J. MacCoun, Patricia A. Ebener, William L. F. Felstiner, Deborah R. Hensler, Judith Resnik, Tom Tyler

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This report investigates the attitudes and perceptions of individual plaintiffs and defendants in personal-injury tort cases in three state courts. Specifically, it investigates how tort litigants' impressions of fairness and satisfaction with their experiences in the civil justice system are affected by hearing procedures, case events, and the litigation process. The authors found that the three third-party procedures studied — trial, court-annexed arbitration, and judicial settlement — differed considerably in the procedural fairness and satisfaction ratings they engendered: arbitration hearings and trials were viewed more favorably than were settlement conferences. The findings suggest that improvements in perceived justice and satisfaction are more likely to come from changes in the tone of the judicial process than from innovations designed to cut costs or reduce delay. Further, innovations intended to reduce costs and delay should not do so at the expense of those qualities of the judicial process that are more important to litigants.

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