Juries: The Original Fairness Calculator

A survey of your peers.

I had the fascinating experience of attending my first jury summons yesterday in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I wasn’t sure whether to be disappointed or relieved when they dismissed me from the courthouse after 7 hours of waiting for my voir dire.

A randomly selected jury pool jury is in some ways the original, single-use fairness calculator. When confronted with a dispute, one presents the case to a representative sample of your peers. They vote for the result they think matches their common sense notions of what is relevant and who is right. If Splitwise didn’t do surveys to test our fairness calculators, it would be a bit like the government having a trial without a jury (maybe a stretch, but I think it’s a stimulating thought).
Despite the ordinary topic of the case (medical malpractice), I felt unexpectedly inspired by the semi-tacky video thanking me for my service. In fact, I started to think to myself as I waited that doing jury service would be good for my soul and possibly even good for Splitwise. Ryan and Marshall wouldn’t have been amused if I had been picked, but fortunately or sadly, I was not chosen as a juror this time round.

I think the reason I was dismissed from jury service was that, when the judge asked me my views on medical malpractice, I told them (truthfully, of course) that I wasn’t sure how I felt about the topic. I’ve heard that limiting liability for malpractice suits could reduce health-care costs, but I’m not really sure if there’s enough research to know how exactly it would change the behavior of stakeholders. I said all this and that I thought it was an intellectually interesting topic and I hadn’t made up my mind about it. This must have made either the plaintiff’s or the defendant’s lawyers nervous because they dismissed me in short order.

I’ve read elsewhere that limiting malpractice claims would do little to cut the overall cost of health insurance (conservatively somewhere between 1% and 7% of total costs, if this article is still current), but I have several medical student friends who feel that the current system of liability makes it impossible to admit mistakes to your patients and fosters a terrible CYA culture among doctors. Of course, changing these liabilities, procedures, and laws also affects the rights of victims of legitimate gross negligence whose lives have been seriously altered by the experience.

Medical liability is a tough and interesting question, but I don’t expect Splitwise will be  making any malpractice calculators soon. For now, we’ll leave it to the juries.

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Jon Bittner

Splitwise helps you and your friends keep track of shared expenses, so that bills (and friends) get paid on time.

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