The question of “judge or jury” doesn’t come up often. Most personal injury claims – around 95%, in fact- are settled without a trial. The main incentive to settle is economic. Taking a case to trial is very, very costly and slow. Legal fees mount up. The courts’ case schedules are backlogged for many months, or even for years. And then, there’s the uncertainty of a trial’s outcome. When plaintiffs and defendants settle before trial, each one’s outcome may well fall short of perfect. However, it’s a known outcome. That’s worth something, sometimes a lot.
Nonetheless, some personal injury cases do go to trial. There are three common reasons for this.
GOING TO TRIAL
First, some plaintiffs insist on it. Their motives usually go beyond the financial and economic. For these plaintiffs, in fact, almost no amount of financial compensation would make them whole. Justice, in their eyes, can only come from a public demonstration of the defendants’ malfeasance. Such plaintiffs have deep emotional investments in the process.
Second, on a more practical level, the plaintiff and defendant may be so far apart on the matter of damages that compromise is impossible. Money is the only way personal injury defendants compensate plaintiffs. If a plaintiff’s demand and a defendant’s best offer are unbridgeable, the case goes to trial.
Finally, plaintiff and defendant may be so at odds on the issue of fault that the matter of damages is moot. A plaintiff who denies all fault won’t offer any financial compensation at all. There’s nothing to talk about.
JUDGE OR JURY?
Once a trial is in the cards both sides need to look at the issue of judge vs. jury. A court can conduct a personal injury trial without a jury. The judge then brings in the verdict. This is a “bench” trial.
In nearly all cases the plaintiff has the right to a trial by jury. Note that a plaintiff’s attorney must secure that right by requesting a jury trial in the Complaint that kicks off the litigation process. Failure to request a jury trial properly and timely can result in losing that right.
Experienced Boca Raton personal injury lawyers generally prefer jury trials. Jury verdicts are usually better for plaintiffs. In some cases, though, a bench trial can work to a plaintiff’s advantage. Such cases often involve very complex points of law or high-level, technical expert testimony. Juries are more emotional in their reckoning than are judges. Thus, when a plaintiff’s lawyer thinks a jury would find his or her client unappealing, the bench trial option may be preferable. The “judge or jury” decision is one of many that only an experienced personal injury lawyer can effectively inform.