Unveiling the Power Dynamics in Anchoring Damages

Jan 26, 2024 11:50:38 AM by Amanda Panagakis, PhD.
Realistic number vs unrealistic number image

In the complex landscape of civil litigation, the concept of "anchoring damages" has evolved into a pivotal term, resonating deeply within legal circles. While the notion that proposing a specific numerical figure can sway damages is not groundbreaking, a significant number of defense attorneys may inadvertently undervalue the profound impact it exerts in the theater of courtroom battles.

Effects of Anchoring:

Research repeatedly emphasizes the potency of anchoring damages, revealing that, regardless of the evidence presented, when plaintiffs ask for more during a trial, it significantly increases the chances of securing a higher verdict. Interestingly, the requested amount doesn't always need a solid connection to the evidence, raising questions about the dynamics of influence at play.  Past research has shown us that a majority of the jurors thought that the amount that plaintiff’s were asking for in damages were “About Right.”


Navigating Variable Damages Awards:

The variability observed in general damages awards can be traced, in part, to the absence of clear guidelines for translating perceptions of harm into monetary awards. Here are some recommendations to guide the jurors.  

  1. Instructing Jurors Early: To enhance jurors' ability to use evidence appropriately, instruct them before hearing the evidence, fostering a more informed and nuanced understanding throughout the trial. Despite addressing the elements of damages, jury instructions fall short in guiding jurors on how to convert their perceptions of the plaintiff's condition into a dollar award. When defense attorneys refrain from providing a specific number, jurors default to the plaintiff's figures. Group dynamics can further sway jurors towards the dominant speaker, potentially leading to inflated verdicts. To counter this, defense counsel must articulate a compelling reason for their suggested damages in each category.
  2. Use Analogies: Analogies can shape jurors' perceptions. The plaintiff’s attorney will play into the emotional side to get their anchor in, they may even resort to using an analogy of the salary of a professional athlete and compare the damages to that.  The defense attorney needs to do the same. Talk about what the money would do for the injured or what the money can do for the family.  

An effective discussion should incorporate visual aids to vividly illustrate the proposed amount and its tangible impact on the plaintiffs. It is crucial to articulate not only the monetary figure but also to elucidate how this proposed compensation would affect the lives of the individuals involved. The sum presented by the plaintiffs often transcends mere financial restitution.  Use the analogy “What the plaintiff’s is asking of you is of the magnitude that would provide each family member with a residence befitting a mansion and furnish them with a new car every month.”

Rather than focusing solely on the plaintiff's proposal, it would be more beneficial to delve into the practical implications of the compensation amount. Consider exploring the real-world impact by quantifying the cost of acquiring a home in the area for a family, detailing the expenses associated with securing a four-year college degree for each child, and addressing the financial commitment required for providing the children with a car every 3-5 years once they begin driving. 

By anchoring the discussion in concrete examples, we can underscore the tangible value that this monetary award holds for the family. Anchor a number that represents the fulfillment of primary life goals—providing a home, securing a college education, and ensuring reliable transportation for their children.


In the ongoing exploration of anchoring damages, defense attorneys are challenged to arm themselves with strategic insights essential for navigating this pivotal facet of civil litigation. To effectively address the complexities involved, it is imperative for legal practitioners to grasp the power dynamics in play and actively engage in contributing to ongoing research efforts. This proactive involvement not only enhances attorneys' understanding but also empowers them to refine their approaches. By doing so, they can assertively advocate for outcomes in the courtroom that are not only fair but also just.


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Amanda Panagakis, PhD.

As a paralegal, Amanda was introduced to mock trials, focus groups, witness preparation, and jury selection and instantly knew that she wanted to become a trial consultant. After finishing her Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology, Amanda worked as a trial consultant for several focus group and mock trial companies before joining our First Court team in 2023.

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