When 10 Trials are Better than 1000: An Evidentiary Perspective on Trial Sampling

11 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2012

Date Written: March 13, 2012


In many mass tort cases, separately trying all individual claims is impractical, and thus a number of trial courts and commentators have explored the use of statistical sampling as a way of efficiently processing claims. Most discussions on the topic, however, implicitly assume that sampling is a “second best” solution: individual trials are preferred for accuracy, and sampling only justified under extraordinary circumstances. This Essay explores whether this assumption is really true. While intuitively one might think that individual trials would be more accurate at estimating liability than extrapolating from a subset of cases, the Essay offers three ways in which the “second best” assumption can be wrong. Under the right conditions, sampling can actually produce more accurate outcomes than individualized adjudication. Specifically, sampling’s advantages in averaging (reducing variability), shrinkage (borrowing strength across cases), and information gathering (through nonrandom sampling), can result in some instances in which ten trials are better than a thousand.

Keywords: sampling, mass tort, shrinkage, averaging, variability

Suggested Citation

Cheng, Edward K., When 10 Trials are Better than 1000: An Evidentiary Perspective on Trial Sampling (March 13, 2012). University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 160, No. 4, pp. 955-965, March 2012, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2021203

Edward K. Cheng (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States
615-875-7630 (Phone)

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