When a lawsuit has been commenced a trial date will eventually be set down. When a trial date is set any party to the lawsuit is entitled to request that the matter proceed with a jury.
Civil juries in British Columbia consist of 8 individuals who are to be selected from the community at random. A number of individuals will be requested to attend for jury duty. This will occur at the start of the trial and from this pool of people the parties will ultimately select 8 people to sit on the jury. This selection process is much different from what a person may see on television from programs originating in the United States. There is very little information known about the potential jurors and the lawyers are not entitled to ask them questions prior to deciding whether the individual is appropriate to sit on a jury.
If the trial proceeds in front of a jury, the jury becomes “the trier of fact”. The judge continues to determine legal issues and matters of law. The judge will give direction to the jury with respect to their duties and obligations and will advise them that they have the right to determine which facts are proven and which facts they will rely on in ultimately deciding the issues in the lawsuit. Ultimately the jury makes the decision with respect to whether or not liability or negligence has been proven, what damages have been proven and the amount of those damages. It is up to the judge to determine issues with respect to the law such as whether or not certain evidence is admissible.
At the end of the trial both sides are entitled to make submissions to the jury. The judge in his charge to the jury will summarize the evidence and explain the jury’s obligation to decide the case and explain any legal issues which may have arisen during the course of the trial.
When trials are before a jury the parties to the action are not entitled to present to the jury previously decided cases which may be similar for their consideration. This is different than in a case which proceeds by judge alone. When trials proceed before a judge the parties can provide written arguments to the judge and provide detailed summaries of the law and the relevant case law which may apply to that particular lawsuit. As a result the jury is left to their own devices to determine what they feel would be a reasonable amount to award someone for damages for being injured and with respect to other heads of damage which may be presented at trial.
There are benefits and risks to proceeding in front of a jury. Juries lack the legal training that judges possess and there is a risk that they do not possess the experience or tools to properly assess a personal injury claim. That lack of experience can be a risk to all parties to the litigation as sometimes juries award large amounts of damages and other juries will not. The risk of that occurring is usually somewhat less before a judge as they have the benefit of reviewing what counsel believe are relevant cases which have been previously decided.
Sometimes a party will elect to proceed with a jury as they believe that juries are useful, particularly for defendants in cases where the plaintiff may have credibility issues or the defendant believes that they can establish that the plaintiff is not trustworthy and that the jury will take that into consideration in awarding damages. Plaintiffs will often select juries in situations where they believe that a jury will be sympathetic to the plaintiff and how the injuries have affected them.
If you retain a lawyer to represent you in a personal injury lawsuit it is a good idea to have a discussion with them about the relative merits of proceeding to trial with or without a jury.