While no one can agree on Millennial birth dates, experts say the range is anywhere from 1980 (or the early 80s) through the mid-90s or the year 2000. In any case, this safety-conscious generation has strong views on everything from motor vehicle and other product liability issues to methods of trial presentation. In short, Millennial jurors may change the face of product liability trials.
Say what you will about them, but Millennials are now serving jury duty and that, my friends, means change is coming. At the 2016 Emerging Issues in Motor Vehicle Product Liability Litigation conference, sponsored by the American Bar Association in April, a panel on Millennial jurors shocked many of the attending attorneys. While no one can agree on Millennial birth dates, experts say the range is anywhere from 1980 (or the early 80s) through the mid-90s or the year 2000. In any case, this safety-conscious generation has strong views on everything from motor vehicle and other product liability issues to methods of trial presentation. In short, Millennial jurors may change the face of product liability trials.
One attendee, attorney Todd Tracy, said to fellow panelists, “The Millennial discussion has us shocked up here.”
So, just what is so shocking?
Millennials tend to have a poor opinion of corporations, for one thing. Marygrace Schaeffer, senior vice president of Minneapolis-based trial consultant firm DecisionQuest, revealed some data from a recent survey. The data caused some in the audience, which included several defense attorneys, to audibly gasp.
Some of Ms. Schaeffer’s findings included:
- 71% of Millennials surveyed agree that most Big Business puts profits before people and safety;
- 84% felt that Big Business needs to take every safety precaution “no matter how impractical or costly” and 63% of those strongly agreed with that statement;
- Millennials don’t believe government safety standards are the appropriate metric against which safety should be measured;
- In fact, 88% of the Millennials surveyed agreed that “companies should be held to a higher safety standard than what government regulations require.”
One attendee, Robert Ammons of Houston-based Ammons Law Firm, sat on a panel covering new trends in litigation. He said that, in motor vehicle product liability cases, optional crash-avoidance technology is actually a liability for manufacturers as most Millennials believe these features should be standard.
How else will Millennials change the face of product liability trials?
As one might expect, the presentation of expert testimony cannot be long and boring. Millennial jurors want the pertinent information only. According to Mr. Ammons, some trial attorneys have already begun to speed up the pace of expert testimony, focusing only on the truly important parts.
Khaldoun Baghdadi of San Francisco-based Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger and the panel’s moderator, agreed. He said his Millennial colleagues have taught him certain things, including the popular Internet notation “TL;DR”, which translates to “too long, didn’t read.”
Visual presentation techniques must change too, when dealing with Millennial jurors. The old rule used to be avoidance of slick, high-tech appearing presentations. However, many jurors, particularly Millennials, expect to see polished visual aids in the courtroom.
Yes, say what you will about them, but Millennials are now serving jury duty and that, my friends, means change is coming. The “TL;DR” approach gives me pause for concern, but then again, my alma mater had one of the leading proponents of plain language in the law as a legal writing professor. Certainly, omitting unnecessary verbiage in testimony could result in less juror confusion, as long as that which is omitted is truly unnecessary.
As to the visual approach, in this age of technology even I (ahem, most definitely not a Millennial) would expect attorneys to use modern tools combined with knowledge of the law.
The most interesting, in my opinion, change that Millennials will bring to jury trials is the heightened commitment to safety and “people before profits.” If I were a defense attorney (I’m not) or the CEO of a big corporation (I’m looking at you, Bayer and J&J), I might be very worried right about now.