Today I read a funny article about a jury trial in Florida in which the jury sent the trial judge a note asking for a whiteboard and markers and a “big bottle of wine.” I thought that was pretty cute.
Going to trial is a big decision. Although I have tried many, many trials in many counties in Georgia, most of my clients have never been involved in any trial and the trial of their personal injury case will be the one and only time they will ever step foot in a courtroom and the one and only time the case will be about them. You can imagine this might produce some anxiety.
One of the questions often asked is, if we go to trial, who will decide my case? The answer to that question for all of the cases I try is the jury. I try only jury trials. If a judge decides your case, which can happen in Georgia if no one requests a jury trial (very rare in personal injury cases ) or if both parties consent, it is called a Bench Trial. You may be familiar with the trial of Oscar Pistorius going on right now in South Africa. Mr. Pistorius is being tried for murder in the death of his girlfriend. In South Africa, such a trial will be decided by the very judge who is presiding over the case. Just recently it was announced that the judge will render a verdict in that case on September 11, 2014.
In personal injury trials in Georgia, you may often hear the phrase “jury of my peers,” as if that is who will decide your case if it goes to trial… your “peers.” “Peers” often means one’s “equals.” But, as I often have to explain this to my clients, the truth is that a jury deciding their case will not be their “equals” in really any sense of that word. To be “equal” would necessarily imply that these jurors would have experienced the same things my clients have, have the same type education and same type job, and perhaps even have suffered a similar injury to the one being litigated. In the real world, however, nothing could be further from the truth. The process of striking a jury is the DEselection of a jury, not the selection of a jury. You do not get to pick jurors who you think will be favorable to your side because they know something about the incident, or they know something about the instrumentality involved or they have experienced the same injury that we are now asking them to value. Any such person, who might be considered an “equal” of the plaintiff will be either struck for cause by the trial judge or struck by the defense attorney using a peremptory strike. Peremptory challenge in law refers to a right in jury selection for the attorneys to reject a certain number of potential jurors without stating a reason. Other potential jurors may be challenged for cause, i.e., by giving a good reason why they might be unable to reach a fair verdict, but the challenge will be considered by the presiding judge and may be denied.
Jury duty is hard. We find time after time that people who are summoned to jury duty really just don’t want to do it. It’s so impractical and so intrusive into their normal schedules. They have jobs, too, after all, and families to take care of and dinners to cook. But we often find that once jury service is completed, those jurors did everything in their power to understand the case and reach a just conclusion. To do the “right thing.”
So the practical truth is that only people who are completely different from the parties in the case, only people who know nothing about what is involved in the case and only the people who have never experienced anything remotely similar to what the case is about will be the one who decide your case. Does that seem odd to you? The simple truth is that this process results in a jury who, by all indications, can be fair and impartial and give both parties a level playing field on which to try the case. We really can’t ask more than that, can we?
Robin Frazer Clark pursues justice for those who have personal injury claims as a result of being injured in motor vehicle wrecks, trucking wrecks, defective products, defective maintenance of roads, premises safety, medical malpractice and other incidents caused by the negligence of others. Ms. Clark is the 50th President of the State Bar of Georgia and a Past President of Georgia Trial Lawyers Association and has practiced law in Georgia for 26 years. Mrs. Clark is listed as one of the Top 50 Women Trial Lawyers in Georgia and is a Georgia Super Lawyer. Robin Frazer Clark~Dedicated to the Constitution’s Promise of Justice for All.