Psychologists Gretchen Chapman and Brian Bornstein tested this idea in a 1996 experiment, when Liebeck v. McDonald’s was much in the news. They presented eighty students from the University of Illinois, U.S.A., students with the hypothetical case of a young woman who said she contracted ovarian cancer from birth control pills and was suing her health care organization. Four groups each heard a different demand for damages: $100; $20,000; $5 million; and $1 billion. The mock jurors were asked to give compensatory damages only. Anyone who wants to believe in the jury system must find the results astonishing.
The jurors were amazingly persuadable, up through the $5 million demand. The lowball $100 demand got a piddling $990 average award. This was for a cancer said to have the plaintiff ‘almost constantly in pain… Doctors do not expect her to survive beyond a few more months.’