Thursday, February 18, 2010
Fewer Civil Juries?
Several recent articles have suggested that fewer civil cases are being tried before a jury. One article asserts that the costs of trying a personal injury case are prohibitive and so plaintiffs are settling rather than risk trial. Another article suggests that the reason for the demise of the jury trial is the rise of mandatory mediation. Yet another article argues that juries are not as generous as they used to be and so lawyers do not want to risk their personal injury cases by going to trial. As a veteran personal injury, I think all of these factors have combined to reduce the number of jury trials. In fact, a lot of lawyers who work for large personal injury firms may end up going to court only very rarely as the economic rewards of settlement outweigh the time expenditure of a jury trial. I also think that mediation is a significant and salutary factor in the statistics. As much as I enjoy trying a case before a jury, it is often in the client's interest to resolve the matter on terms that are agreeable and through a process which involves the client. And, the costs do not approach those of a jury trial. As to the perception that juries are not as generous as in the past, it may be an accurate perception for those cases where there is little property damage and very minor injuries. My personal experience is to the contrary for those more significant cases. So where does that leave us? I think we acknowledge the drop in jury trials but conclude that it is not necessarily a bad trend. Mediation is a the future for most lawyers and it is a good one. Unfortunately, the mind shift from jury trial to mediation as the preferred resolution mechanism is not happening rapidly enough. Mediation is not yet mandatory in Virginia. It needs to be. Some localities require it but there needs to be a statewide rule. It is the future and we need it in Virginia now.