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New research reveals jury bias against whiplash lawsuits


Broadsided by a car that ran a stop sign, in pain for the rest of your life. If you haven't lost or broken anything, don't expect much in the way of compensation from a jury of your peers. A new study by a nationally known expert on jury behavior finds that potential jurors are skeptical of people who file "whiplash" lawsuits.

Valerie Hans, professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, reports early results from ongoing research into the attitudes of potential jurors toward those who file whiplash lawsuits.

In separate articles published in July in the Tennessee Law Review and Trial, the magazine of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, Hans, working with UD graduate student Nicole Vadino, found that juries are more likely to doubt victims of whiplash than the insurance companies that deny their claims. The Tennessee Law Review study was supported by a grant from the Roscoe Pound Foundation.

These cases involve the blameless victim of a car accident who sustains a soft or connective tissue injury that can't be seen and isn't obviously disabling but has left them in constant pain and unable to resume their normal lives.

Hans concludes that her findings "reinforce the complaints of many plaintiff attorneys that contemporary juries seem hostile to connective tissue injury claims." As a result, Hans writes, "some insurance companies appear to be changing their settlement practices in low-impact car accidents, offering lower settlements or forcing jury trials."

Hans used four focus groups and a national survey to compile these results. She writes, "in the focus groups and national survey, participants voiced substantial doubts about the legitimacy of lawsuits and the credibility of plaintiff claims in connective tissue cases."

Typical responses include: "people try to milk it [the court system] just because they've got a little neck injury," "that kind of lawsuit is why our court system is overloaded and premiums are so high," "it's real easy to claim injury when you're not really hurt and get large amounts from insurance companies." The national survey upheld that attitude showing that 92 percent questioned believed that frivolous lawsuits are common.

According to the journal article, the National Center for State Courts estimates that 60 percent of all tort suits filed are automobile cases.

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