In Settlements We Trust
Jury trials have been on the decline for many years. They tend to be expensive, time-consuming and unpredictable. Petitioners also have many available options for participating in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods in the legal arena today. Settlement agreements can be favorable to plaintiffs, but when people decline to exercise their right to a civil jury trial, there may be lasting effects. While it may be true that settlements are a sure bet, they may not always be the right one.
Vanishing But Not Gone
As the volume of civil court lawsuits and filings has continued to increase, the number of civil cases that go to jury trials has steadily decreased. Over the last decade, civil jury trials have typically accounted for somewhere between 2-5% of all civil case resolutions around the nation. Instead of heading into litigation, many plaintiffs choose to settle their cases outside of court. This phenomenon, commonly known as the vanishing jury trend, is evident in both state and federal judicial systems across the nation, especially in Virginia.
According to recent caseload statistics posted by the Supreme Court of Virginia, civil jury trials have fallen just over 70% within the last decade, even though case filings still average over 100,000 per year. Trial by jury counts that were once in the thousands are now in the hundreds, which seems like a devastating blow to the Virginia justice system. Some judges in more heavily litigated jurisdictions remember the days when they heard a trial a week, which is no longer the status quo. Regardless, many legal professionals know there are as many reasons to settle a case as there are grounds to pursue a lawsuit with a jury trial.
Avoiding the Long Haul
The main factor in deciding to skip a jury trial may be money. Much of the general public knows that to stick with a case from the date of filing through to the reading of the verdict can be a costly journey. Not only do clients pay for a lawyer’s time performing pre-trial research and evidence gathering, but also for court filing fees, expert witnesses, paralegals or law clerks and court reporters involved in the process. These expenses add up quickly and can easily reach into the hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars when all is said and done. These costs are incurred even if a claimant does not win their case.
There are additional considerations that may influence plaintiffs to abandon the trial ship for a satisfactory settlement. The uncertainty that comes with the territory of placing your fate in the hands of a jury of your peers may be enough to sway a petitioner away from trial. The thought of waiting months or years to receive a payout may also be a cause, as well as the many options for alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Forms of ADR that are decided by a neutral evaluator, such as arbitrations, mediations and settlement conferences may all be cheaper and speedier choices for finalizing a civil case.
Your Jury Awaits
The choice to participate in a civil jury trial is one of rights guaranteed by both Virginia’s Constitution and its judicial system as a whole. People who choose to exercise this right earn their day in court to tell their story in hopes of winning the sympathy of a jury. Publicly arguing a case where there was obvious wrongdoing can also provide a lesson in accountability for the offender. A jury of your peers awaits, but if you do not choose them, there may be unforeseen consequences down the road.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, civil jury trials are infrequent but critical legal proceedings. While the terms agreed to during civil settlement conferences usually go unreported and remain confidential in nature, the court records created from civil trials can be important sources of information about civil lawsuits. Even when some litigants would like to make their case a matter of public record, they may be pressured or bound to alternate resolution channels. However, if you are contemplating bringing a civil lawsuit, you should know your rights and be cautious of whom you hire to help you pursue either an ADR or jury trial outcome.
Trust in Experience
A significant downside to the dwindling number of jury trials is the lack of opportunities available to newer attorneys who need the trial experience. This has created an environment in which lawyers with sharpened trial skills and direct courtroom experiences are more valuable than ever. Before you decide to retain an attorney to speak on your behalf, be sure to review their past trial experience and abilities in presenting civil cases inside and outside of jury trials.
An attorney should be aware of the processes and procedures for all potential ADR and trial scenarios and venues. He or she should also be knowledgeable about any tactics that defendants, especially insurance companies, might employ to deny or limit claims. A lawyer must be willing to fend off lowball settlement offers if they are not what you deserve. If you are in the market for legal advice or representation, you need to hire a Virginia trial attorney who will negotiate and advocate for you effectively in any forum.