How to Communicate Statistical Evidence to Jurors
Statistical evidence can be pivotal in many types of commercial litigation related to liability and economic damages. But this type of evidence can cause jurors’ eyes to glaze over with boredom, lack of comprehension or skepticism — unless it’s presented just right.
Recognizing biases and distrust
Statistics can be difficult to present, and not only because many people are suspicious of numbers. These days, advertising, politicians, social media and news outlets create skepticism about statistics in general. Often, jurors feel more comfortable relying on their own instincts or experiences to assess the likelihood of an event. Jurors tend to believe the popular interpretation of the principle known as Occam’s Razor — that the best explanation for an occurrence is the simplest explanation — despite statistical evidence to the contrary.
The dynamics of a courtroom can pose obstacles, too. Jurors typically place greater credence in evidence that supports their beliefs about the appropriate outcome, while discounting evidence that contradicts those beliefs. They also tend to give more credit to studies and related statistics that have been formulated independently of the case at hand, opposed to those conducted specifically for litigation purposes. And when experts present conflicting statistical evidence, jurors are likely to disregard both. By and large, jurors hesitate to render decisions on liability based solely on statistical evidence.
Qualified experts take several steps to overcome these obstacles. First, they ensure information is being communicated clearly — translating their field’s numerical vocabulary into plain English. They also simplify and condense multiple layers of statistical details into comprehensible bottom lines. For example, they might synthesize reams of income and profit statements for dozens of product lines into a single, comprehensive summary.
Additionally, the use of visual aids can help engage jurors and reinforce verbal testimony. Many people are visual learners, so oral testimony alone may not be enough to enable them to understand complex statistical analyses. Experts who supplement their analyses with pictures are likely to leave a lasting impression. But it’s important not to overload jurors with too many pictures — or too much information on one chart, graph or table.
Generally, experts should limit themselves to no more than five images per case, and each image should present no more than two key points. During trial, attorneys should ask experts to explain each graphic in detail, rather than leaving jurors to interpret the visuals themselves.
Jurors have other needs as well. Perhaps foremost, they want to go home with a clean conscience regarding their final verdict. That generally means they prefer not to deny the claim of an injured plaintiff in the absence of another cause. Depending on which side they serve, experts may use statistics to support or eliminate alternative causation.
Supporting everyday statistics
Effective experts also act as advocates for statistics. That is, they build the overall reliability of statistics, showing jurors how they depend on statistics to help them with everyday decision-making. Experts accomplish this by providing examples of the everyday use of statistics, such as in sports analysis or weather forecasts.
From there, experts build up the reliability of the party’s statistics, illustrating how large or small a figure is in real life using points of reference to which jurors can easily relate. They then wield the same criteria to fortify their own statistics — and, conversely, to undermine the opposing party’s statistics by showing how the latter fall short of meeting those criteria for reliability.
Choosing a qualified expert
Does your expert understand how to use jurors’ pre-existing tendencies to successfully relay statistical evidence to them? When selecting experts to testify on statistical evidence, look for more than impressive resumés. While good credentials are certainly important, soft skills — such as being able to write and speak effectively and persuasively — can mean the difference between winning or losing a case. Please reach out if you have any questions.