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Volume XI, Number 110


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The Letter of the Law Amid COVID-19: Has the Pandemic Changed the Way Juries Use Logic and Checklists to Make Decisions?

Social science tells us that individuals reach decisions in distinct ways, often informed by their personality, background, perspective, and core values. One approach to processing information is identified as “Checklisting.” In a jury context, checklisters rigorously scrutinize the evidence and are frequently swayed by arguments that focus on technical and legal specifications rather than emotional factors. Checklisters generally do not waver from the legal elements when faced with plaintiff appeals to sympathy or out of concern for the plaintiffs’ welfare. For this reason, checklisters are often defense-oriented jurors.

COVID-19, however, presents a new theme of litigation in this post-pandemic world. Plaintiffs’ alleged damages have not been caused in ‘standard’ times, and pre-pandemic ‘standard’ law hasn’t addressed the havoc wreaked by the virus. Under these circumstances, will a checklister still resist appeals to sympathy?

As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have resounded across communities, businesses, and the courts, IMS has been conducting extensive research to help our clients gain insights and perspectives on the virus’ implications for their cases and trials. Through a series of twelve mock jury focus groups, convened this summer across three major venues, we explored a range of concepts and attitudes across seven litigation types in the context of COVID-19.

In this research, checklisters were present on most of the panels. Their responses to the various case narratives presented to them consistently revealed the tell-tale checklisting approach to processing information. But despite the presence of checklisters across the mock juries, we identified important nuances in their perspectives on these kinds of claims.

For example, checklisters were wholly dismissive of business interruption insurance claims related to COVID-19. They zeroed-in on specific policy language involving “physical damage or loss,” determined that such damage did not exist, and ruled in favor of the defendant insurer.

Conversely, checklisters tended to favor the plaintiff in lawsuits involving highly regulated industries. For example, they viewed nursing homes and employers as liable in the event of COVID-19 infections when the harm was preceded by documented violations of government standards or regulations for cleanliness or hygiene.

Jury Considerations

Do you want checklisters on your jury? Based on the above and research specific to your case, you may.

It is vital, then, to identify checklisters in your venire and determine the best approach to appeal to them. These jurors are frequently formidable and persuasive in deliberations. Even one checklister on your side can have huge implications for your chance at victory. The process of identifying them is best accomplished through a combination of a jury questionnaire, live voir dire questions, and background research.

The Letter of the Law Amid COVID-19: Has the Pandemic Changed the Way Juries Use Logic and Checklists to Make Decisions?

On COVID Time: Why Timelines Are More Important Than Ever

How Will the Concept of 'Personal Responsibility' Influence the Attitudes of Jurors?

Read more on the study here.

© Copyright 2002-2021 IMS ExpertServices, All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 242



About this Author

Associate Jury Consultant

Clint’s background in the fields of communication and trial consulting prepared him well for his position as jury consultant at IMS | The Focal Point. As an expert in the field of communication, he knows how to deliver crisp, effective courtroom messages. His work as a university instructor enabled him to develop an adaptive instructional style, which he now uses when he prepares different types of witnesses for trial. During his training as a trial consultant, Clint became skilled at evaluating mock trial data and identifying the traits that are predictive of verdict outcomes.


Britta Stanton IMS Thought Leader and Trial Strategy Advisor IMS Expert Services
Trial Strategy Advisor

Britta Stanton is an IMS Thought Leader and trusted advisor to the firm’s top clients. An experienced trial lawyer with more than a dozen trial appearances and nearly twenty years of practice in state and federal venues, Britta has also advised clients on hundreds of cases and trials.

She has served as faculty for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy and graduated magna cum laude from Baylor Law School, where she also served on the Baylor Law Review. Her thought leadership contributions help clients explore best practices on topics ranging...

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...