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Lawyers face the hurdle of overcoming juror biases, survey shows.

When it comes to trying a case before a jury, lawyers have their work cut out for them. That's according to a survey by The National Law Journal and Decision Quest, a national trial consulting firm. The findings show that many potential jurors are independent minded, distrustful of litigants, and reluctant to serve.

"The survey results demonstrate how much the rhetoric of tort `reform' has infected the jury pool but also indicate that all is not irretrievably lost," said Robert Peck, ATLA's senior director for legal affairs and policy research. "By creating a better public understanding of the civil justice system and countering the fractured and distorted anecdotes often put out by our opponents to influence potential jurors, we can still ensure that the administration of justice remains viable and fair for injured people."

Of the 1,012 adults age 18 and older who participated in the telephone poll, almost 25 percent said they would do their best to get out of jury duty if they were called to serve. Still, nearly 75 percent believed that juries are usually successful in reaching just verdicts. And more than 75 percent of those polled said that if they served on a jury, they would cast aside what a judge says the law requires and reach a verdict they feel is right. (Peter Aronson, David E. Rovella, and Bob Van Voris, Jurors: A Biased, Independent Lot, Nat'l L.J., Nov. 2, 1998, at A1).

As for how they feel about civil litigants --plaintiffs and defendants alike--potential jurors cut them no slack. Most respondents--84 percent--believed that injured people often blame others for their own lack of caution. And many (45 percent) felt that product warnings are intended to protect manufacturers from being sued rather than to protect consumers from harm (31 percent believed the latter).

About 66 percent believed that lawsuits against product manufacturers have made products safer, but most respondents (73 percent) felt that lawsuits have made consumer products more expensive. Many of those surveyed felt that lawsuits have also increased the cost of medical care (89 percent) and insurance (91 percent).

Sixty-two percent of respondents believed that there should be limits on the punitive damages that corporations can be made to pay. Nonetheless, nearly half said that if they were injured in an accident or by a product, they would sue.

Potential jurors regard corporate executives who are parties in a case with a distrustful eye. More than 75 percent of those polled believed that corporate executives often try to cover up evidence of wrongdoing by their companies.

Twenty-two percent of respondents said they could not be fair if a tobacco company were one of the parties to a case they were considering. If an asbestos or breast-implant manufacturer were a party, 14 percent and 16 percent, respectively, said they could not be impartial.

Seventeen percent of those surveyed said they would be biased if a homosexual were a litigant. Fifteen percent said they could not be fair if a politician were a party. And more than 40 percent said they believe that a criminal defendant who doesn't testify is hiding something.

As for witnesses in a case, almost half of the survey respondents think that expert witnesses say only what they are paid to say, and nearly 33 percent don't believe police testimony.
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Author:Reichert, Jennifer L.
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 1999
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