Arbitration in the Shadow of a Jury Trial Comparing Arbitrator and Jury Verdicts - Dispute Resolution Journal - Vol. 58, No. 4
Donald Wittman is a professor of economics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He has published extensively in academic journals devoted to law. His most recent book is an edited collection, Readings in the Economics of Law (Blackwell). His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his Web address is http://people.ucsc.edu/~wittman/.This is a non-technical explanation of a research paper presented at the NYU Institute of Judicial Administration’s Research Conference on Arbitration, Sept. 19-20, 2002.
Originally from Dispute Resolution Journal
The author studied automobile accident cases that went through both court-annexed arbitration and a jury trial. Using information on the severity of damages, the care undertaken by the litigants, whether the defendant had deep pockets, and the outcome, the author determined how arbitrators and juries responded to the evidence. He found that, in general, arbitrators and juries behaved quite similarly. They awarded more to plaintiffs when (1) medical expenses were higher, (2) the defendant was relatively more careless, and (3) the defendant had deep pockets. He also found that arbitrators and juries are equally consistent in their judgments. The one area where he found clear differences was in the probability of a plaintiff verdict. Arbitrators were much more likely to find a verdict in favor of the plaintiff.
Many state and federal district courts have implemented court-annexed arbitration as a possible alternative to a jury trial. In this study, I sought to determine whether arbitrators and juries resolved the dispute differently.1 Unlike other studies that have compared jury verdicts to arbitration or judge verdicts, my data set considered cases that were actually tried by both. This provides a unique opportunity to compare the two types without the data being muddied by the fact that the set of jury trials differs from the set of arbitration trials or that one or both types is responding to a hypothetical situation as in experimental research.
The data set covered 383 automobile-accident cases that were tried in California by both a professional arbitrator and a jury. This data included case characteristics (such as damages to the plaintiff) and the amount awarded by the jury or arbitrator. This data allowed me to discover how juries and arbitrators responded to high medical bills and the defendant’s relative culpability. I also was able to investigate the importance of deep pockets by discovering the impact on the jury or arbitrator’s award when the defendant was driving for a business or government agency.