If you have spent any time watching a legal movie on the big screen or in front of your TV at home, you may have a somewhat mistaken approach to the civil justice system. If the fictionalized dramas are to be believed, then you might suspect that someone is injured, the next day they visit an attorney, the next day evidence is gathered, and a week later the team is sitting in front of a jury arguing the case. While that direct storyline is convenient when creating a two hour movie or thirty minute television drama, it is far from a reflection of reality.
The truth is that the civil justice system is far more drawn out–often lasting months or even years. On top of that, the vast majorty of cases never go to trial. That is because well over 90% of legal matters are resovled amicably via a settlement between the parties. That includes most traumatic brain injury cases, often stemming from auto accidents and falling incidents. In other words, more than anything else, the civil justice system is a means by which parties are able to discuss their disagreement under neutral terms and, in most cases, figure out a fair way to end the matter without being forced to bring in neutral third party outsiders to resolve the matter.
Yet, that doesn’t mean that all cases end in settlement. When the presence of negligence is difficult to determine or if there is disagreement about the scope of damages, then a judge or jury trial is often necessary to end the matter. Fortunately, these methods, while not perfect, are far and away the best that we have to ensure a fair resolution is reached with both sides being given an adequate hearing.
The Impartiality of Juries
The tort litigation “briefing book” from the Center for Justice & Democracy provides a few succinct points on the value of jury verdicts. This is the same briefing material that we’ve previously discussed, which seeks to dispel many of the inaccurate assumptions about the civil justice system as is relates to tort cases.
For example, the briefing book explains how the myth of juries being anti-business is just that: a myth. Some interest groups seeking to limit the role of juries claim that juries are inherently unfair to business defendants. They argue that juries often assume that a business has deep-pockets and therefore consistently force them to pay injured vicitms even when they were not negligent.
The truth is far more nuanced. Academics who study jury behavior have found that juries do not systematically decide against businesses under the assumption that they have deep-pockets. Instead, if there is any disparate outcomes it stems from judgments about reasonable standards of care, not systematic bias. In other words, juries often take a business’s experience, knowledge, and resources into account when evaluating their conduct in any given situation against the standard of care. Those experiences, knowledge, and resources will be different for a business than an individual. Those differences may ultimately impact a jury decision in a case, because what qualifies as negligence is altered in each.
This is far different than the simplistic notion that juries only rule against businesses because they assume the business can afford to pay. On the contrary, jurors take their role seriously, understand the issues of fairness, and do their best to apply the law as explained to them to the facts that they hear in the courtroom. Their judgement should not be discounted or maligned by insurance companies and other big interests trying to slowly curtail the right to a jury trial.
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