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NCJ Number: 165441 Find in a Library
Title: Estimating Liability Risks With the Media as Your Guide
Journal: Judicature  Volume:80  Issue:2  Dated:(September-October 1996)  Pages:64-67
Author(s): D S Bailis; R J MacCoun
Date Published: 1996
Page Count: 4
Type: Report (Study/Research)
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This study shows that, compared with objective data, popular news magazine coverage of tort litigation portrays a distorted picture of outcomes; such bias in media accounts could affect the decisionmaking of potential litigants.
Abstract: For better or worse, the mass media are the most readily accessible source of information on tort outcomes. To evaluate the media's portrait of the civil jury more systematically, a content analysis of news magazine articles was conducted. The sample consisted of a subset of articles from "Time," "Newsweek," "Business Week," "Forbes," and "Fortune" published between 1980 and 1990 that featured tort litigation. The goal was to compare the typical tort as described in the news sources with the typical tort as described by data from RAND's Institute for Civil Justice, the American Bar Foundation, the National Center for State Courts, and other sources. The types of tort liability mentioned in each article were coded, as well as the types and manufacturers of products whenever product liability was mentioned. The 118 articles included 146 mentions of specific lawsuits, which were coded according to the litigants' status as individuals, government, or businesses; the injuries and losses plaintiffs had sustained; the location of the case; the determination of liability; and whether a judge or jury had made this determination. Fifty-two specific trial awards were mentioned. If specified, compensatory and punitive damage award amounts were recorded. Findings show that articles devote much greater attention to product liability and medical malpractice than would be expected on the basis of actual accident, litigation, or trial rates. Regarding jury trial rates, the media do not exaggerate the role of the jury in settling disputes so much as they exaggerate the proportion of disputes that result in jury trials. Further, the media overrepresent plaintiff victories relative to their true rate. Also, the selective reporting practices of the media bring a distorted portrayal of the size of jury awards, as they tend to focus on unusually large awards. Direct evidence for media effects on tort decisionmaking requires future studies with different research strategies; however, the weaknesses of the media as a primary information source for tort litigation patterns highlight the need for more systematic monitoring and dissemination of reliable data on tort outcomes. 2 tables
Main Term(s): Public Opinion of the Courts
Index Term(s): Civil proceedings; Media coverage; Torts
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