Here is the logic of scarcity: I hurt, therefore you should hurt too. If this is the prism by which I see the world, then I will allocate, measure, and divide according to the limitations I experience. If I am poor, I too will seek for you to be poor by my choices. In my scarcity mindset, that is only “fair” because I, that is, my ego, am the measure of what is available.
This is not abstract spirituality. This mindset plays out in jury verdicts during hard economic times when people either are unemployed or fear becoming unemployed. This “scarcity mindset” operates from the language of fear that “there is not enough.”
Now, the reality is that jurors are awarding less in damages during these difficult days. I admit that it is pure speculation on my part as to why. Any reputable social scientist would begin by asking the jurors themselves about their attitudes. Whatever the cause, my brethren in the trial bar are reporting a common trend: jurors are awarding less, and more often, awarding nothing.
The main arm of the plaintiff’s personal injury bar, the “Consumer Attorneys of California” [Note how that dirty phrase “personal injury attorney” is omitted by the name] reports that the number of personal injury cases filed has dropped 24 per cent in the last decade. Even so, trial lawyers are getting feedback from disgruntled jurors that they are more cynical, less compassionate, more withholding. Jamie Court, president of the Santa Monica based consumer rights group “Consumer Watchdog” states: “If you’re out of work and trying to find a job, why should someone who has been injured get money when you’re hurting too?”
A more systematic investigation is needed to draw reliable conclusions. Such inquiry would include some social psychology to interpret the results as well. But the reports of trial lawyers who are well known in Southern California, such as Browne Greene in Los Angeles, are that “It’s harder today for a plaintiff to get justice than it was before.” Mr. Greene also says it is harder to weed out cynical, angry jurors because the courts have reduced the time and scope of voir dire [jury selection].
The cynicism is aggravated by poorly selected cases, overreaching requests for damage awards, and delays in trial caused by overtaxed courts. People are just getting pissed off.
A good trial lawyer will feel passionately about his case, and that passion has to come through as sincerity in the presentation of the case. An excellent trial lawyer I know takes negative attitudes of jurors during voir dire, and uses them as springboards to explore why that negative attitude should not operate in his particular case. I think recent juror feedback indicates too that careful preparation, efficient use of time when qualifying documents and witnesses as evidence, and a reputable demonstration of the actual harm done to a client, will aid the trial lawyer in getting past the scarcity mindset.
Yet, I am disturbed by the logic that states that I will have less if I award you more. If that is the explanation for recent reduced jury verdicts, it does not reflect well upon the community spirit.
The following is a comparison of the etymologies of the words scarce, scar, and scarred. Though the words derive from different origins, they seem to express a theme: something “plucked out” or taken away, someone burned, or injured, and someone timid, afraid. Thus we are scared by loss and injury, we feel something is taken away, and we live in fear at the loss.
[Quotes and information taken from Los Angeles Daily Journal, Vol. 123, No. 249, Dec. 27, 2010, P. 1]
Etymology: Scarce: Origin:
1250–1300; ME scars < ONF ( e ) scars < VL *excarpsus plucked out, for L excerptus; see excerpt
1350–1400; ME; aph. var. of eschar: Origin:
1375–1425; late ME escare < LL eschara < Gk eschára hearth,brazier, coals and therefore indication of burning; cf. scar1
1150–1200; (v.) ME skerren < ON skirra to frighten, deriv. ofskjarr timid, shy; (n.) late ME skere, deriv. of the v.