Estimating Liability Risks with the Media as Your Guide

A Content Analysis of Media Coverage of Tort Litigation

by Daniel S. Bailis, Robert J. MacCoun


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A content analysis of 249 articles from Time, Newsweek, Fortune, Forbes, and Business Week during 1980-1990 examined the representativeness of popular media coverage of tort litigation. Compared to objective data on tort cases, the magazine articles considerably overrepresented the relative frequency of controversial forms of litigation (product liability and medical malpractice), the proportion of disputes resolved by trial (rather than settlement), the plaintiff victory rate at trial, and the median and mean jury awards. Psychological mechanisms by which biases in media coverage could affect the decision making of potential litigants are discussed. The results highlight the need for more systematic monitoring and dissemination of reliable data on tort outcomes.

Originally published in: Law and Human Behavior, v. 20, no. 4, 1996, pp. 419-429.

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