Many personal injury attorneys opt to present a client's case to a jury rather than to a judge alone, and there are a number of reasons why this is often true. Jury members may be more receptive to appeals based on emotion and stories of suffering caused by another party's negligence. They may also be more willing to hold a seemingly cold and impersonal insurance company to account for the losses sustained by a vulnerable plaintiff. Of course, that is not to say that there are not potential drawbacks to foregoing a bench trial and taking a chance with a jury. Complex or particularly technical issues in a case may be difficult for juries to fully comprehend, possibly reducing the chances of recovery. Regardless of which course of action is ultimately selected, prospective personal injury claimants would do well to gain an understanding of the fundamentals of jury trials as well as their distinct pros and cons.
Among the first key tasks in any jury trial is the process of choosing members of the panel that will ultimately decide the outcome of the case. The judge and the attorneys for each party will engage in detailed questioning of prospective jurors about their backgrounds, predispositions, perspectives and the like. Judges may excuse jurors from participation if their responses indicate significant concerns, and the attorneys may make use of peremptory challenges or challenges for cause in order to exclude individuals for any reason in the case of the former and, in the case of the latter, if they have reason to believe that specific bias exists.
Instructions to the Jury
Following opening statements, presentation of witness testimony and other evidence and closing arguments, the jury will receive a series of instructions from the judge. These are, in essence, explanations of the legal standards to be used in determining the outcome of the case. Important concepts and definitions will be discussed so that appropriate elements of the law are utilized in the rendering of a verdict.
Deliberation and Rendering of a Verdict
Following the instructions phase, members of the jury will begin contemplating the case so that they can reach a determination of whether the defendant is responsible for plaintiff's injuries and what an appropriate form of compensation might be. The deliberation phase represents the first time the jurors will be permitted to discuss the matter as a group, and the entire stage can last anywhere from hours to days to weeks in certain instances.
Damage Calculations by Juries
If a jury does, in fact, find that a plaintiff's claims are valid and compensation is in order, the process of determining an appropriate award can be somewhat complicated. While most jurors are conscientious, paying careful attention to the evidence presented at trial as well as to the instructions provided by the judge, experience dictates that this is often a stage at which emotional appeals can come into play. Sympathetic plaintiffs who have made convincing arguments about their suffering are more likely to receive significant financial recoveries. The ability of attorneys to paint a compelling picture of the injustice of what has occurred is the reason many personal injury cases are heard by juries rather than judges alone.
Zealous Advocacy at Each Stage of Litigation
While it is certainly true that jury trials offer injury victims an opportunity to appeal to the humanity and emotions of jurors, there really is no one-size-fits-all choice when it comes to the most appropriate forum for a given case. A seasoned attorney will be able to assess the facts, weigh the persuasiveness of the evidence and come to a conclusion about the best way to proceed. If you have sustained serious harm due to another party's negligence and wish to explore your legal options, contact the Law Office of Jeremy Rosenthal at 303.825.2223.