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In the E. Jean Carroll v. Donald Trump case, the jury today awarded $83.3 million in damages. As I understand it, this breaks down to:

  • $11M for damage to Carroll's reputation
  • $7.3M for for emotional harm
  • $65M in punitive damages

What stands out to me is the .3 in the emotional harm -- why isn't it an even $7M? I realize it's subjective, but how do juries typically enumerate these damages and end up with values like this? Are there standard instructions given to the jury to guide them, and this just falls out of the process?

I would have been less surprised if the fraction had been in the reputational damage. As I understand it, that part of the complaint relates to how Trump's defamatory remarks impacted her earning ability. So the jury would estimate what her future salaries, book and speaking fees, etc. would be with and without the damage, and award the difference. These estimates would not necessarily be round figures.

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  • Definitely not base on the judges instructions: 2024-01-26: Trump storms out of courtroom during E. Jean Carroll's lawyer's closings: Kaplan told the jurors that if they rule in favor of Trump, they should award a $1 verdict, and if they find in favor of Carroll, they will have to determine whatever amount they see fit. Probably a combination of a percentage of the 24 million requested and a compromise between the jurors. Commented Jan 27 at 6:33
  • Is that typical? While the Trump case sparked my curiosity, I intended it as a general question.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 27 at 16:18

2 Answers 2

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Legally, the calculations are often somewhat arbitrary, which means that practically, they could be based on just about anything, and we'll never know about it because juries deliberate in secret.

Still, that doesn't mean juries are just picking random numbers. I've seen juries end up awarding figures that might seem strangely precise, but that they could actually explain clearly when given the chance:

These may or may not have been legally appropriate calculations, but I have see juries award:

  • $226,368 for emotional harm because plaintiff's salary was $75,456 and defendant's sexual harassment made it 3 times harder to do her job.
  • $1,001,470 in a race-discrimination case because the defense attorney said the jury shouldn't award plaintiff anything more than $1,470 (one week of lost pay).
  • $422,013 in damages because 4/22/2013 was the date of a key event that the jury believed the defendant was lying about.

Here, I'd note that $7.3 million is two-thirds of $11 million, so my first guess would be that the jury saw the different categories of damages as being somehow proportional.

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  • Thank you, this is exactly the kind of answer I was looking for.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 27 at 17:05
  • And it also sometimes goes the other way. I've heard of juries awarding $1 because they believe the plaintiff was wronged, but the damage was trivial. Right?
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 27 at 17:07
  • Yep. That is not at all uncommon.
    – bdb484
    Commented Jan 27 at 19:26
  • These trials usually include expert testimony as to the value of the (reputational) damages, and this one is no exception. So you could use the fact that an expert witness evaluated the damages to her reputation, putting the value at $7.3 million to $12.1 million. So the jury might have just used the low end there for the emotional damages. Commented Jan 28 at 6:23
  • @Barmar Indeed, the blank and filled-out jury forms for the damages was made public, and the first part asks if the jury holds the damages were non-trivial and what the value was, with the instructions being to put in a value of $1 if they in fact determined the damages were trivial. Commented Jan 28 at 6:48
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In the end the decision of how to value the damages are made by the jury, and is largely arbitrary. However such trials generally do include expert witness testimony as to the value and extent of the damages, which can influence and guide the jury. Unless they just don't take to their testimony, in which case they make the determination by whatever criteria they concoct in deliberations.

In this case, the defense called Ashlee Humphreys as an expert witness, who placed the reputational damages at $7.3 million to $12.1 million. It's entirely possible this is mostly a coincidence, perhaps a value the jury fudged to reflect a value given at trial for whatever reason. But the jury certainly may have used these values as the baseline for their deliberations, and just borrowed that minimum value of $7.3 million for the emotional (rather than reputational) damages. The observation that $11 million is approximately 1.5 times $7.3 million made in bdb484's answer certainly may have helped influence this particular selection of values, as a feeling of proportionality can be a powerful persuader. Whether they started at $11 million and worked back to 7.3 somewhat coincidentally, or they started at the 7.3 and worked up to the 11 million by proportionality, or if the proportion was just coincidence, etc., we won't really know unless a juror speaks out.

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