Millennial Jurors Will Affect Product Liability Trials

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By Martina Barash

April 19 — Members of the safety-conscious Millennial Generation are serving on juries now—and that affects methods of trial presentation as well as more substantive issues in motor vehicle and other product liability cases, some in the litigation business say.

Upwards of 80 percent of Millennials expect corporations to take every precaution to ensure safety, regardless of practicality or cost, trial consultant Marygrace Schaeffer said.

And Millennial survey respondents don't see government safety standards as the relevant measuring stick, said Schaeffer, senior vice president at DecisionQuest in Minneapolis.

Schaeffer spoke at a recent event in Phoenix geared towards lawyers and focused on motor vehicle liability.

“The Millennial discussion has us shocked up here,” said Dallas plaintiffs' attorney Todd Tracy, gesturing to his fellow speakers at a later panel at the event.

Dim View of Corporations

Some 71 percent of Millennial survey respondents agreed with the statement that most big companies put profits ahead of concern for safety, Schaeffer said.

But a total of 84 percent also agreed that corporations should take every precaution for safety, “no matter how impractical or costly”—with 63 percent agreeing strongly. Schaeffer's presentation of this data prompted an intake of breath in the audience, which included many defense attorneys.

In response to another survey question, 88 percent of Millennial respondents agreed with the statement that “companies should be held to a higher safety standard than what government regulations require,” Schaeffer said.

Millennial birth dates aren't universally agreed on. Researchers generally say the range is from 1980 or the early 1980's through the mid-1990s or 2000.

Robert Ammons, of the Ammons Law Firm in Houston, said in a panel on new trends in litigation that, in the area of motor vehicle cases, crash-avoidance technology can be a liability for manufacturers when offered as optional equipment.

That's especially true with Millennial jurors, who might expect such features to be standard, Ammons said.

Brief Is Best

On other trial-related topics concerning Millennials, a concern not to bore jurors and to go quickly through expert testimony has taken hold among trial attorneys, Ammons said.

Indeed, the panel's moderator, Khaldoun Baghdadi of Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger in San Francisco, said he learned the notation “TLDR” from working with Millennial colleagues—“too long, didn't read.”

Juror attitudes about visual presentations in the courtroom have also changed, some panelists said. Attorneys used to try to avoid appearing high-tech and slick, but now jurors, especially Millennials, expect polished visuals, they said.

The 2016 Emerging Issues in Motor Vehicle Product Liability Litigation conference, held April 6–8 in Phoenix, was sponsored by the American Bar Association.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martina S. Barash in Washington at mbarash@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bna.com