Differential Treatment of Corporate Defendants by Juries

An Examination of the "Deep-Pockets" Hypothesis

by Robert J. MacCoun


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Evidence that juries treat corporate defendants less favorably than individual defendants is often cited in support of the widely held view that juries are biased against wealthy "deep-pocket" defendants. Such evidence confounds defendant wealth and defendant identity. In two juror simulation experiments involving citizens on jury duty, these factors were separated by manipulating whether the defendant was described as a poor individual, a wealthy individual, or a corporation; the defendant's assets were described identically in the latter two conditions. In Experiment 1, liability was significantly more likely, and awards were significantly greater, for corporate defendants than for wealthy individual defendants, but verdicts against poor versus wealthy individuals did not differ. In Experiment 2, awards were larger against wealthy individuals who engaged in commercial rather than personal activities, and awards in the personal activity condition were larger against corporations than wealthy individuals. There was little evidence for a defendant wealth effect on juror judgments. While juries do appear to treat corporations differently, the explanation may have more to do with citizens' views about the special risks and responsibilities of commercial activity.

Originally published in: Law & Society Review, v. 30, no. 1, 1996, pp. 121-161.

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