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Litigator’s Playbook: Sense of Entitlement Affects Decisions on Damages

by Jeri Kagel, M.Ed., J.D.

Trial Synergy, LLC

I want to share with you some research that I read recently that was done to demonstrate how a juror’s (psychological) “sense of entitlement” impacts decisions on damages. Simply stated, when one has a sense of entitlement, one feels that he or she has the right to some benefit. Entitlement is psychologically different from desirability. Each of us, just by virtue of living, deserves the good that life can bring us. Thinking “I’m entitled” often comes without a sense of responsibility or thoughtfulness.

For those of us with low self-esteem, or those of us who grew up without receiving much in the way of love or support, our sense of desirability is limited and we have no sense of entitlement. We are uncomfortable making demands or asking for others to meet our needs in personal or professional relationships. Further along the entitlement scale, are those of us more willing to fight for ourselves, to take center stage and insert ourselves in line for some reward. Finally, there are those who have an inflated or exaggerated sense of entitlement. We take because we think it is “owed” to us. We may expect others to care for us regardless of how we behave or whether we care for them. At the extreme end of entitlement, are the narcissists; the people who have a grandiose sense of themselves and crave attention with little or no regard for others around them.

In The Jury Expert, a professional newsletter by trial consultants and for attorneys, I recently read about some research done where three different questions relating to one’s sense entitlement were embedded into a research design tool. The answers to those three questions were then correlated to participants’ thoughts regarding different damage awards. Perhaps not surprisingly, those with an elevated sense of entitlement were more likely to give higher damage awards. This research suggests that, along with other psychological factors discussed in previous articles such as attributing blame and sympathetic responses, psychological entitlement is another predictor of damage awards.

The questions used to determine entitlement, asked participants to check, on a scale of “highly agree to highly disagree,” the following:

  • I deserve more things in my life.
  • I honestly feel I’m more deserving than others.
  • People like me deserve an extra break now and then.

(Caution: The idiosyncrasies of your case, such as who your plaintiff and defendant are, what actions were taken or decisions made, and what injury or consequence resulted, will dictate most of the specific attributes you want to learn about during voir dire.)

This one aspect of a person’s psychological makeup, their sense of entitlement, can add to your understanding of whether your potential juror is walking into the courtroom more or less likely to award a large or small amount of damages.

Jeri Kagel, M.Ed., J.D., is the president and principal trial consultant for Trial Synergy, LLC. Ms. Kagel has her M.Ed. in counseling psychology from Georgia State University and her J.D. from Northeastern University.

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