Denver Empirical Justice Institute

Anchors and Counters


Funded by a Hughes-Ruud research grant, we used a videotaped mini-trial created by trial lawyers and uploaded to an online survey platform. We studied how a plaintiff’s damage demand and defense responses to those demands altered liability and damage awards when all other information was held constant. We quantified the impact of anchoring on demands as well as how various typical defense responses altered outcomes. Our findings will be published in a Top 20 law journal – Iowa Law Review. You can read our paper here.

The yellow bar illustrates how individual mock jurors that rendered a verdict in favor of the plaintiff decided damages awards. The smaller cyan bar takes into account those mock jurors that rendered verdicts for the defendant and creates a case expected value. The six different scenarios were created using two different plaintiff closing arguments and three different defendant closing arguments. The plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award either $250,000 or $5 million to compensate the plaintiff for pain and suffering associated with the back injury. In the first defendant’s variation, the defendant’s attorney challenged both liability and damages and asked the jury to award “no money.” We refer to this as “ignoring” the damages demand because the defendant’s attorney never said what the appropriate amount of damages should be if liability were found. In a second variation, the defendant’s attorney first argued that there was no liability. However, he then argued that if there was liability, the jury should award no more than a reasonable amount, which he stated would mean “no more than $50,000.” We refer to this as “countering” because the defendant’s attorney is offering a lower alternative damages figure. Finally, in the third variation, the defendant’s attorney ridicules the plaintiff’s damages demand and explicitly uses the demand to argue that the jurors should not trust what the plaintiff has said about both liability and damages. We refer to this as “attacking” because the defendant’s attorney is attacking the plaintiff’s credibility


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Sturm College of Law
University of Denver
2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208