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Lessons Learned From Past Crises and Disasters [PODCAST]

In this exclusive expert video briefing from the IMS COVID-19 Research Insights Series, we speak with economist Donald House about how the pandemic relates to previous crises and what we have learned.

Christopher Ritter: You've seen your share of hurricanes, and you've seen your share of major, major disruptions. What are some of the lessons that you think we take away from those kinds of claims?

Don House: Well, a change in the mix. During hurricanes, and we saw it with the pandemic here as well. There was tremendous demand for such things as paper products, as bottled water, and things of sustainability of someone being sheltered in but still have plenty food and paper products as well. So those things increase in demand substantially, and you found their prices would increase during the period of the pandemic. And then of course, things turn back to normal.

And then you have the hurricanes. I remember a hurricane that we went through where there was a lot of vegetation and trees that fell down. Tremendous demand for chainsaws. I remember our Sears store were bringing in truckloads of chainsaws, because there was peak demand for that. But then when you look at other things, more convenient things like automobile sales and things like that, they were truly shut down for a while. So, there was a big change in what we call relative demand. Some products were increased in demand and benefited from the catastrophes, and other things were really shut down. Here we found almost everything was shut down, except for the paper goods and perhaps food and some types of food.

So, each catastrophe has its own mark on the market. Some things going up in demand and some things going down.

House: One thing that we commonly do is we look at the allegations in the complaint. And then we're given a lot of documents, some of which would be emails and reports, internal reports, and things like that, but also deposition testimony. And one of the questions that is asked of an economist is the consistency they found between the allegations and the conduct that you are able to observe in the documents, as well as deposition testimony. We're not ever asked, what is your opinion? Do you think that maybe the defendant is guilty of crimes? Or statutes? We're not asked that. But we are asked, in looking at all the evidence, what is it that is consistent with the allegations and what things might not be consistent with the allegations? And those are important questions.

The economist isn't a juror. The economist is not giving an opinion said, "I think he did do this, and the consequences are that." It's merely, "Let's look at the evidence," and this is for the benefit of the juror. Look at the evidence and see if it's consistent with what the claims are. And then the jury will decide the extent to which they believe it or not, but the economist is not really asked to try to persuade them, but merely just assemble the facts in a way that they can understand it better.

And the other question would be, if in fact there is a loss of business, or a loss of sales. And there is the allegation that there is a conduct by someone that calls that, then you have to ask, okay, there is a loss of sales we can see that, but was it caused by the conduct of the defendant? Or were there other factors that may have caused that? So the economist has to separate and investigate what other things might have caused the same pattern of a decrease in sales, in addition or augmenting or maybe even taking the place of the conduct, or the actions of the defendant. So that's part of what an economist will do is to see what is consistent with the allegations. And also, if in fact there is injury, what were the other possible causes of injury that you have to take into account. And that is before you get to the calculations of damages. And then the calculations of damages taken to a whole stream of different issues, some of which we've already discussed.

Ritter: So, I hear you raising three points. One is the consistency issue. The second one is a mitigation issue that could have been prevented. And then the third issue is a causation issue. Is that a fair statement?

House: That's a fair statement.

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About this Author

Chris Ritter Senior Trial Advisor IMS Expert Services
Senior Trial Advisor

Chris Ritter is a highly sought advisor for top clients seeking guidance and perspective on case theme development, persuasion graphics development, witness preparation, and focus group and mock trial research. Chris graduated from the University of Chicago Law School and actively tried cases for nearly fifteen years. He served as adjunct professor of law at the University of California, Hastings School of Law for twelve years, teaching courses in trial practice and evidence. Chris has advised clients for more than twenty years on over 500 cases throughout the country, with more than 100...