A classic case of pretrial publicity is currently playing out in Steubenville, Ohio. After members of the hacker’s group called “Anonymous,” posted a photo and video linking two high school football players to the rape of a teenage girl and pointing toward an official effort to limit the scope of the scandal to protect the football team, the story has saturated local and national media. Scheduled to be in trial next month, their attorney has claimed “a right to a fair trial for these young men has been hijacked.” This is the kind of scenario we most readily think of when we consider the effects of pretrial media: Wall-to-wall coverage of a criminal case leads to such a high level of knowledge, or perceived knowledge, that it becomes impossible to find an open-minded jury. We’re less used to thinking about this media effect in a civil law context, especially in those mid- to smaller-sized cases that make for boring news stories. Continue reading →
A Persuasion Strategies/K&B National Research Survey
We are in an election season, and that is a good reminder of the fact that attitudes change. Maybe not fast enough to feed the 24-hour news cycle, but definitely fast enough to influence the litigation climate between cases. Products liability litigation in particular, is heavily influenced by jurors’ preexisting attitudes on personal responsibility, their specific beliefs about safety, product labeling and testing, as well as the way they see the relationship between large corporations and individuals. These are all attitudes that vary by venue and over time. Not having your finger on the pulse of these shifting opinions can pose a danger to products litigants. While jurors are definitely committed to hearing the evidence and basing a decision on the particular case instead of their generalized attitude, the outlook they come in the door with will still determine your starting point in trial. Continue reading →
A warning that calls attention to a product’s potential danger is obviously an important part of a company’s litigation prevention and defense. But according to one recent statistic, a substantial portion of the public, and potential jury pool, may be a bit cynical on the question of whether warnings are designed to educate or just provide cover. In a 2010 Decision Analysis survey on attitudes toward products liability litigation, fully 70% shared the belief that product warnings exist to protect companies in the event of lawsuits rather than to protect the public from product risks. On the bright side, that means that if “CYA” truly is your motivation for consumer warnings, you won’t be violating jurors’ already low expectations by admitting it. On the even brighter side, it means that if you can convincingly reframe your own company’s warning in the broader terms of public education, you may end up surprising jurors and gaining an important measure of credibility in the process. Continue reading →
“There is danger in all sports, anyone who plays them takes that risk for themselves.” -Mock Juror in recent sports litigation research
Athletes choose to play sports that involve risk. Athletic teams, coaches and organizations are aware of the risk just like players. So, how much personal responsibility does an individual athlete have for safely participating in his or her chosen sport? What must the player and the organization do to make sure all possible safeguards are in place to reduce risk? Who should be held most responsible?
Jurors (and judges, arbitrators and mediators) confront these basic but critical questions in sports-related lawsuits like that of former college football player Stafon Johnson. This week, Mr. Johnson sued the University of Southern California and ex-assistant conditioning coach, Jamie Yanchar, claiming negligence in the 2009 weightlifting incident that resulted in severe injuries to Mr. Johnson’s throat, threatening his life, ending his college football career, and potentially limiting his professional career. Continue reading →