Psychological and Structural Bias in Civil Jury Awards

Journal of Aggression, Conflict, & Peace Research, Vol. 8, p. 247-57, 2016

27 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2015 Last revised: 16 Dec 2016

See all articles by Erik James Girvan

Erik James Girvan

University of Oregon School of Law

Heather Marek

University of Oregon

Date Written: November 10, 2015


The goals of this paper are twofold. First, it proposes a basic organizing framework for when a plaintiff’s race, ethnicity, and gender may impact civil jury awards. The framework takes into account psychological and structural sources of bias and the ways in which they may interact systematically with instructions that provide jurors with more or less discretion. Second, the paper employs a methodological innovation to overcome one of the primary barriers to empirical field research on race bias in civil legal decisions: The absence of plaintiff demographic information. The dataset is comprised of jury verdicts in tort cases combined with information from the U.S. Census Bureau regarding race and ethnicity. Statistical tests measure the relationships between race, ethnicity, gender and awards for economic damages and pain and suffering. Overall, the results were consistent with the psycho-structural framework. Where jurors had discretion (i.e., pain and suffering damages), they awarded less to Black plaintiffs than to White plaintiffs, indicating potential psychological bias. Where jurors had less discretion (i.e., lost income) they awarded less to female plaintiffs and more to Asian plaintiffs than to male and White plaintiffs, respectively, a reflection of structural income disparities. Thus, the framework and method have promise for exploring relationships between structural and psychological bias and differential civil jury awards.

Supplemental material to this article is available at

Keywords: bias, discrimination, inequality, race, gender, juries, torts, damages, surname, demography

JEL Classification: J15, J16, J17, J7, K13

Suggested Citation

Girvan, Erik James and Marek, Heather, Psychological and Structural Bias in Civil Jury Awards (November 10, 2015). Journal of Aggression, Conflict, & Peace Research, Vol. 8, p. 247-57, 2016, Available at SSRN: or

Erik James Girvan (Contact Author)

University of Oregon School of Law ( email )

1515 Agate Street
Eugene, OR Oregon 97403
United States
541 346-8934 (Phone)


Heather Marek

University of Oregon ( email )

1280 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403
United States

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