Jury vs. Non-Jury Trials

jury box in a courtroom

When a personal injury matter is to be commenced formally by a Statement of Claim, the parties must elect a jury trial or a non-jury (or judge-alone) trial.

When a case proceeds to a jury trial, the outcome of the case will be decided by members of the public who make up the jury. A jury may end up making a decision based on compassion, emotion, skepticism, or any other reason that is unbeknownst to even the lawyers and a Judge.

It may sound like this would work in a plaintiff’s favour, and you may be wondering “why wouldn’t I want a jury trial?” It should be considered that an emotional jury may not always work in your favour. A jury may be too emotional and their emotions may interfere with the evidence before them and the application of court rules. A jury can also be unpredictable – they may not understand the critical and technical aspects of the case.

In contrast, a judge trial is one in which the trial judge will make all of the decisions. A trial judge is an unbiased and impartial decision-maker. A judge is well-versed in the facts, rules of evidence, and details of the case before them. Their decisions are law-based, rather than based on emotion or anything else. You can be assured that the presiding judge is well-versed in the law and its application. A judge trial also may result in a faster resolution, as there is no jury selection process, instructing the jury, or jury deliberation time.

The downside of a judge-alone trial? The lack of deliberation makes the final decision the judge’s decision alone. There is no discussion or persuasion. Also, while a jury will only be exposed to admissible evidence, the judge sees all of the evidence. A judge could also be confined to the historical rulings of the past of what a certain injury is worth regarding pain and suffering.

In the context of personal injury trials, neither party is permitted to tell the jury about the Statutory Deductible or that it is an insurance company that is making all the decisions for the Defendant, paying for the Defendant’s lawyer, and paying the award on behalf of the Defendant. The Defendant rarely pays out of his/her pocket any monies for a reward. Where the awarded general damages for pain and suffering in motor vehicle accident cases are less than $138,343.86, the award is subject to a deductible of $41,503.50. This means that if a jury awards $20,000.00 in general damages, you must deduct this from the statutory deductible of $41,503.50, and then the plaintiff gets nothing. A jury is meant to award damages based on the merits of the case and without regard to the deductible. It is not for the jury to decide how much of an award will end up in the plaintiff’s pocket. It is okay for a juror to have previous knowledge of the deductible, but they ought not to have learned it from the lawyers at trial. If the lawyers disclose this information to the jury, the trial will be deemed a mistrial and the party who erred will have cost consequences awarded against them.

In personal injury, a non-jury trial is often preferable. The jury selection, instruction, and procedural aspects of juries are cause for an increase in costs and a decrease in efficiency. A jury trial may result in an award that is reduced to nearly nothing, benefitting only the insurance companies. For example, a jury award for general damages of $50,000 will be reduced to $8,496.50.

When involved in personal injury litigation, speak with your lawyer about the merits of opting for a jury trial vs. opting for a non-jury trial.

If you or a loved one have been injured in a slip and fall or motor vehicle collision, contact us at JEWELL RADIMISIS JORGE LLP. and a member of our team will be happy to assist you.
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