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

By Clint Townson, Ph.D., Britta Stanton, Esq., and G. Christopher Ritter, Esq.

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. Do you want checklisters on your jury? Based on our research and the specific themes of your case, you may.

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.

In Depth Analysis

For more insights visit our COVID-19 Client Resource Hub

Contact us today to discuss the specific needs of your case and learn more about the application of these insights for your client.

IMS ExpertServices

IMS ExpertServices delivers consultative trial and expert services for the most influential global firms. Over nearly three decades and through more than 20,000 cases and well over 1,000 trials, clients have trusted IMS to equip them with the perspective and tools they need to help their clients succeed. With offices in the San Francisco Bay Area, Dallas, Pensacola, and New York, the company provides trial strategy consulting, jury consulting, trial graphics consulting, trial presentation consulting, and expert witness recruitment and management. IMS has earned nine consecutive rankings on the Inc. 5000 list, won recognition by The National Law Journal in six categories of its “Best of 2020” awards, by Corporate Counsel Magazine as winner in eight categories of its “Best of 2019” awards, and as “Go-To Thought Leader” for two consecutive years by The National Law Review.


FEATURING: Clint Townson, Ph.D.

With a Ph.D. in the field of communication, Clint 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. Read more about Clint Townson>>


FEATURING: Britta Stanton, Esq.

As a former trial attorney, Britta pays rigorous attention to details and reviews case issues with laser-like focus. An experienced trial lawyer with nearly twenty years of practice in state and federal venues, and now as a trusted strategy advisor with the company, Britta has advised clients on hundreds of cases and trials. Read more about Britta Stanton>>  


FEATURING: Christopher Ritter, Esq.

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. Read more about Christopher Ritter>>

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