August 5, 2015

Protect Your Precious Resource — Energy Industry-Friendly Jurors

By Dr. Shelley Spiecker: 

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‘Precious resource’ in the energy industry typically refers to a saleable commodity like a coal seam or shale play.  Yet when an energy company finds itself in the courtroom, it is not coal nor shale, but industry-friendly jurors that are a ‘precious resource’. I recently spoke at the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law’s 61st Annual Conference in Anchorage, Alaska about how the trend of more favorable public perception is impacting litigation strategies for energy companies. Returning home after the Conference, I received an email from an attorney who attended and had a response to my presentation. He said, “What do I do when I have to select a jury with no voir dire opportunity? Is there a single juror characteristic predictive of favorability that I can know simply from reading a juror’s information card?”

For readers following our blog, you know we emphasize the importance of juror attitudes in predicting juror bias. But to uncover attitudes requires the ability to question jurors during voir dire, which the attorney emailing me indicated he is increasingly unable to do. So to answer his question I needed to turn to demographic characteristics to see if there is a single key variable that significantly predicts juror industry favorability. 

Using logistical regression analysis we analyzed the background demographic information from respondents in our most recent 2014 nationwide juror survey and compared this data to their responses to various lawsuit scenarios. Only one demographic factor emerged as a significant predictor – age. Specifically, as people get older, the more favorable they are to the energy industry. To illustrate, in one lawsuit scenario respondents were informed that an oil and gas company has been accused of underpaying the owners of the oil and gas the company has been producing. Half of the respondents learned that after receiving the underpayment claim, the oil and gas company committed to changing its payment practices. The other half of respondents were informed that the company did not commit to changing its payment practices. All respondents were then asked whether they felt the company should be punished with a damage award. The overall regression model was significant, meaning that respondents leaned more in favor of the defendant company that ‘committed to change’ its payment practices. However, in addition to this finding, as respondents got older they were more likely to respond that when the company committed to change it should not be punished with a damage award. Specifically, with every one-year increase in a potential juror’s age, he or she was 3.35 times more likely to respond that the company that committed to change should not be punished with a damage award. 

To answer the emailer’s question: If you are restricted to knowing only about jurors’ basic background information, seniority really does matter. Protect your older jurors who are reliably more industry-favorable than younger jurors.

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Other Posts on Energy Litigation: 

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Image credit: 123rf.com, used under license

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