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Understanding the Generational Expectations of Claimants

Consider the values and prejudices of every generation when litigating or negotiating a claim.

October 16, 2013 Photo

Several years ago, I spoke to a group of product liability lawyers on tailoring closing arguments to persuade jurors from different generations. All jurors come to a courtroom with disparate life experiences that act as a lens through which they view the facts presented at trial. That lens is, in part, determined by the world in which they grew up. Sociologists and other researchers have assigned tendencies and stereotypes to each generation.

While they are generalizations by nature, it is helpful for a defense lawyer to consider the values and prejudices of each group when arguing a case. The same consideration should be given to claimants when negotiating a claim, particularly when it is in litigation.

The age of your claimant may have a lot to do with their expectations for the outcome of the claim, including their monetary expectations, propensity to file suit, risk tolerance in taking a case to trial, expectations for certain types of damages, and the timing in which the claim will be resolved.

Although every generation thinks the generation that follows it has a bit of an entitlement mentality, there are things about Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, and Generation Z that you should consider when negotiating or even mediating a claim.

Baby Boomers are those born between 1946 and 1964. Generation X was born between 1965 and 1977. Millennials, or Generation Y, were born between 1978 and 1987. Finally, Generation Z is comprised of those born after 1988 and into the 2000s. Each of these groups has different tendencies regarding finances, education, work ethic, the judicial system, and the value of a dollar. Perhaps most importantly, each has a different view of entitlement.

Just as your defense counsel should consider these tendencies when picking a jury at trial, you should consider them as you evaluate the claimant—particularly when they are not represented by counsel. Let’s take a look at each generation, its tendencies, and the impact on negotiation and resolution of a claim.

Baby Boomers - This group is idealistic, competitive, and will question authority. Expect them to be skeptical and question whatever proposition you make or any information you provide. Be ready to justify your decisions on a claim but expect resistance. The ability to work is highly valued by this generation, so lost-wage claims have more importance. For males, the ability to provide for their family is paramount.

Generation X - This group is very self-reliant and resourceful. They also are distrustful of institutions. Mediation with a neutral party that develops trust can be very effective with this group. They also are adaptive to change and technology. Work is a means to an end for them; claims that have a high impact on lifestyle are important and valued. They also may be skeptical of the judicial system as a whole.

Millennials/Generation Y - This is the first generation to grow up with the television remote in hand. They tend to be more realistic by some accounts. You may have more luck negotiating with them directly as pro se claimants. However, this generation also can be very egocentric and, thus, many have an inflated sense of value.

Generation Z - Technology is not a novelty for this generation but is as common as electricity was for Baby Boomers. Social media is woven into the fabric of their lives. They live much of their lives online and even prefer digital communication as opposed to a phone call. Social media evidence can be very helpful in discovery. We will learn more about this group as it enters the workforce. They are also the most eclectic in terms of friendships and connections. It also has been said that they are the least likely group to believe in the American dream. They may be willing to do more with less than their predecessors and, thus, may be easier to negotiate with. However, because of their age, they may be counseled in their claim by someone from another generation.

All of these categories provide generalizations and simplifications, but also they provide a framework for understanding the life experiences of and influences on the claimants with whom you interact each day. You may not be from the same generation as your claimant, but you can understand the things they value as you go through the process of resolution.

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About The Authors
Jim Pattillo

Jim Pattillo is a litigation partner with Christian & Small LLP in Birmingham, Ala. jlpattillo@csattorneys.com  

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