Is the Right to a Jury Trial Vanishing?
The right to a trial by jury is, especially in American legal history, a sacred one. As our Delray Beach personal injury lawyers at the Law Offices of Aronberg, Aronberg & Green know, the sixth amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides in part that in “all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury[.]” But the Bill of Rights did not just secure the right to a jury trial for those accused of crimes; the seventh amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that in civil cases, “the right of trial by jury shall be preserved[.]”
The existence of the seventh amendment, and its adoption in 1791 along with the other 9 amendments which compose the Bill of Rights, is evidence of how important the right to a jury trial in a civil case was and still is today. But as our personal injury lawyers know, the right to such jury trials has been essentially vanishing as our society has become increasingly governed by non-negotiable contracts.
One of the reasons that jury trials seem to be vanishing is the institution of mandatory arbitration clauses in consumer contracts. These clauses, which are almost always included in the terms of agreement—and which a consumer has no ability to alter—stipulate that in the event of some legal dispute between the consumer and the provider company (the cell phone provider, the credit card provider, the bank, the moving company, etc.), the disagreement will be sent to arbitration, a process by which a professional arbitrator hears the dispute and issues a determination by which the contracting parties are bound. These clauses requiring arbitration (and disallowing a jury trial) are almost always non-negotiable: you, the consumer, either agree to the terms implicitly or you can go find a different provider, though almost all now use these sorts of clauses.
It is indeed true that many, many would-be trial cases never go to trial because they settle—sometimes even before the first court filing. A study from 2004 revealed that roughly 97% of cases never make it to trial (i.e. they are either settled or dismissed before they get before a jury). The report produced by the U.S. Department of Justice stated that the percentage and number of cases being resolved before trial was lower than it was a decade before, indicating that case resolutions pre-trial were and remain a trend. While the 97% number is impressive, remember that it might even be conservative: there is no statistically valid way of determining exactly how many would-be jury trials were averted when you consider the number of claims made and settlements reached before a plaintiff ever files a complaint with the court. That is, as our personal injury lawyers know, without court records, there is often no trace of the case to begin with.
True, the benefits of settlement are numerous. Settling before trial saves time, money, and misery. The plaintiff need not spend years waiting for their case to get to trial, need not incur tens (and sometimes hundreds) of thousands of dollars on depositions, expert witnesses, travel, etc., and need not endure the emotional upheaval which almost always is made a part of a heated jury trial.
But while settling a case may save time, money and heartache, the option to have a trial by jury is in many ways just as important as actually having one. When individuals are robbed of their right to demand a trial by jury (because of one of the mandatory arbitration clauses or similar contractual provision), they are in effect shorted in the legal process: one of their tools is taken away from them and their attempt to recover that which they are owed is made that much more difficult. It is generally understood that behemoth organizations (as defendants) fare worse before a jury composed of “peers” of the plaintiff than would the plaintiff him or herself. Thus, as our personal injury lawyers know, when the defendant corporation knows that it won’t ever have to go before a jury, it is far less likely to resolve the dispute in a way favorable to the plaintiff. In essence, the right to a jury trial gives a Plaintiff leverage; without that right, they lose that leverage.
If you have any questions about this or any other personal injury issue, or if you or someone you know has been injured due to the wrongdoing or negligence of another, please contact our Delray Beach personal injury lawyers at Aronberg, Aronberg & Green for a free consultation by calling 561-266-9191 or by e-mailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to assisting you.