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Effect of Blameworthiness and Outcome Severity on Attributions of Responsibility and Damage Awards in Comparative Negligence Cases

Effect of Blameworthiness and Outcome Severity on Attributions of Responsibility and Damage Awards in Comparative Negligence Cases

Abstract

We studied the effects of accident victims’ legal blameworthiness and the severity of their injuries on determinations of responsibility and damage awards. In general, participants tended to ascribe more fault to victims than warranted by the facts presented, displaying an antiplaintiff bias. When attributing fault and awarding damages, they were especially sensitive to the blameworthiness of the victim when the consequences of the accident were severe rather than mild. These findings appeared not to be mediated by emotional reactions to the victims. Participants tended to conflate issues of liability with what ought to have been the legally distinct question of damages. They appeared to decide comparative negligence awards not by determining percentage fault and gross damages as discrete items and then computing their product, as the law prescribes, but rather by using more holistic judgmental processes.
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