April 11, 2012
Cheng on Trial Sampling
Ed Cheng (Vanderbilt University) has posted When 10 Trials are Better than 1000: An Evidentiary Perspective on Trial Sampling to SSRN.
In many mass tort cases, separately trying all individual claims is impractical, and thus a number of trial courts and commentators have explored the use of statistical sampling as a way of efficiently processing claims. Most discussions on the topic, however, implicitly assume that sampling is a “second best” solution: individual trials are preferred for accuracy, and sampling only justified under extraordinary circumstances. This Essay explores whether this assumption is really true. While intuitively one might think that individual trials would be more accurate at estimating liability than extrapolating from a subset of cases, the Essay offers three ways in which the “second best” assumption can be wrong. Under the right conditions, sampling can actually produce more accurate outcomes than individualized adjudication. Specifically, sampling’s advantages in averaging (reducing variability), shrinkage (borrowing strength across cases), and information gathering (through nonrandom sampling), can result in some instances in which ten trials are better than a thousand.