Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Margaret Bull Kovera

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Mary Beth Melchior

Third Advisor's Name

Ronald Fisher

Fourth Advisor's Name

Janat Fraser Parker

Date of Defense



The purpose of this study was to examine whether the manner in which civil defendants account for their behavior influences compensatory and punitive damage awards. Jurors read three civil trial summaries, in which I manipulated injury severity (high vs. low), defendant reprehensibility (high vs. low), defendant status (individual vs. corporate), and account (concession, excuse, justification or refusal) in a factorial design. I also included four control groups in which the defendant stipulated liability. In all other conditions, participants read that a jury had found the defendant negligent. Only defendant reprehensibility influenced punitive awards. Both plaintiff injury and defendant reprehensibility influenced compensatory awards. When individuals offered justifications and when corporations offered excuses, jurors awarded lower compensatory awards against low reprehensibility defendants than against high reprehensibility defendants. Negligence stipulations led to lower damage awards for individuals than for corporations. Additionally, concessions tended to produce lower awards when combined with a stipulation of negligence as opposed to a jury decision. These findings support the hypothesis that in cases in which the defendant is clearly negligent, circumstances exist in which stipulating negligence and offering an apologetic account will lead to reduced damage awards decisions. Results indicate that individual and corporate defendants offering justifications and refusals should first consider the reprehensibility of their actions. In a broader realm, findings demonstrate that the manner in which a jury perceives the explanation given by the defendant is dependent upon defendant characteristics and case-specific factors.



Included in

Psychology Commons



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