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Determining Damages: The Psychology of Jury Awards
Am J Psychiatry 2004;161:1731-a-1732. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.161.9.1731-a
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Tacoma, Wash.

By Edie Greene, Ph.D., and Brian H. Bornstein, Ph.D. Washington, D.C., American Psychological Association, 2003, 238 pp., $49.95.

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Outside observers have often been mystified and perplexed by jury decisions in both civil and criminal matters. Much popular mythology surrounds the jury decision-making process in these cases. In civil cases (except for those in which the judge is the trier of fact), the jury first decides whether the defendant was the responsible party in the plaintiff’s claim and then is charged with calculating the amount of compensation to be awarded to the plaintiff. In this book the two psychologist-authors explore the process by which a jury determines this amount.

The authors divide the book into three sections. The first section is arguably the most interesting and involves a compilation of data and research about the principal players in the civil courtroom drama, namely, the plaintiff, defendant, and jurors. The other two sections focus on how factors such as the severity of the alleged injury, the conduct of the litigants, and the jury decision-making process affect the amount of the award. The research and data tapped into by the authors come primarily from a social science perspective and appear to lack the rigor of biomedical research, including psychiatric research. A substantial proportion of the empirical research highlighted and discussed by the authors has been based on jury simulation studies.

The authors conclude that the jury decision making in civil cases is reasonable, but they would like to see some modifications in the present system to increase the likelihood that jurors produce a fair, predictable, and reasoned decision in determining the compensation amount. However, the authors recognize the limitations of the available database and the present research methodology to generate useful information. They express hope that future research will be a driving force in effecting improvements in horizontal equity in calculating the award, i.e., plaintiffs with similar injuries should be similarly compensated.

The authors aimed this book at three different groups—the academic types who are interested in the decision-making process in the context of uncertain information, policy makers who are in a position to make modifications to this process, and attorneys who want to "enhance their advocacy skills." The exclusion of practicing mental health professionals, including psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, as a primary target audience of this book does not appear to be an oversight. The book reads slowly, and there is much repetition of the limited number of ideas. The book could have been several pages shorter if the authors had written more succinctly and with less repetition about this very narrowly focused topic. Forensic psychiatrists (and psychologists) might have some interest in the book to better appreciate the nuances and complexities of jury decision making. However, this knowledge would not be particularly relevant to the role of the forensic mental health expert witness. Psychiatrists may be interested if they were defendants in a medical malpractice claim. However, the book will not allay any fears of a physician-defendant, despite the authors’ noting a relatively lower percentage of plaintiff victories in medical malpractice cases compared with other civil cases. In sum, with regard to psychiatrists and other mental health clinicians, this book would be worthwhile reading for those clinicians with an avid interest in this specific area of the judicial process.




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