Alternatives to Jury Trials

Loganville and Athens Personal Injury Lawyers

Covid-19 has disrupted every aspect of our lives, and the judicial system has been no different. Just recently, the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court issued a Judicial Emergency closing the courts except for essential functions and postponing all jury trials. Due to Social Distancing guidelines, we may not see the return of jury trials for quite some time (even once the courts do reopen). Moreover, when jury trials do resume, presiding judges may be more inclined to push through the backlog of awaiting criminal trials/calendars due to the emergent nature of such cases. As such, it would be beneficial to investigate alternatives other than jury trials to resolving your personal injury claim.

Before even discussing alternatives to jury trials, you and your attorney need to discuss the valuation of your case so that you both can create a unified gameplan going forward. We also stress the importance of relying heavily on the value your attorney discusses with you. Your attorney has the most intimate knowledge of your case, and possesses the education and experience to properly assess your case’s value.

With that being said, the following are some alternative avenues for you to explore in an attempt to avoid the inevitable lengthy wait you will experience in having your case heard in front of a jury.

  • Informal Negotiations– discuss with your attorney the possibility of him/her being able to negotiate a settlement with the insurance company’s attorney.
    • This would be the quickest approach;
    • this approach, however, is the least likely to work because you most likely would not have filed if the insurance company had already made you a good offer.
  • Mediations– this is the most common approach to resolving a claim stuck in litigation; a mediator involves a neutral 3rd party experienced in the field of personal injury law, and his/her job is to go between you and the insurance company with settlement numbers and to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your case in hopes that the two sides can come to an agreement. These negotiations are also informal.
    • Even with current social distancing restrictions in place, the legal field has managed to utilize technology to conduct “telemediations” via Zoom if any party is uncomfortable with attending in person.
    • *Even if you have mediated before, you should discuss with your attorney the pros and cons of trying to mediate your claim again as often new evidence can come to light even since your first mediation to change the valuation of your claim.
  • Bench Trials– a bench trial acts just like a regular trial, but instead of presenting your case to a jury of your peers, the judge acts as the jury and issues a verdict.
    • A bench trial requires far fewer people in a courtroom, and theoretically, could be conducted while adhering to the social distancing guidelines;
    • Additionally, judges, court officials, and attorneys have discussed conducting these trials via Zoom or some other form of telecommunication.
    • Unfortunately, short of a court order, both parties’ attorneys must consent to conducting such a trial, and historically, this has been difficult to get both parties to consent to.
  • 6 Person Juries– once the Judicial Emergency prohibiting jury trials gets lifted, another alternative is to get both parties to agree to a 6 person jury. Traditionally, civil trials in Georgia are conducted in front of 12 person juries, but Georgia law actually allows for juries as small as 6.
    • This approach could, again theoretically, allow for courts to adhere to the social distancing guidelines while still allowing for them to seat juries;
    • Nevertheless, both parties must agree;
    • The courtroom must be laid out in such a manner that allows for 6 person juries to be seated while still adhering to the social distancing guidelines that we presume will still be in place;
    • Additionally, you are also at the mercy of the presiding judge’s civil trial calendar in addition to his/her criminal trial calendar. Judges face the burden of easing the months-long backlog of cases awaiting trial, and will be overloaded. Therefore, you must wait in line for your case to be called, which again could take months.
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