Choosing Jury Trial or Arbitration for Personal Injury
CHOICE OF TRIALS
The first major choice that must be made regarding the filing of a personal injury lawsuit involves the type of trial you wish to have. You and your lawyer must determine whether to demand a jury trial, a trial before a judge without a jury, or a hearing of a more informal nature. The choice you make may determine how quickly your case is decided and the maximum amount of money you can receive to compensate you for your injuries.
If you and your lawyer select an informal hearing, many states provide an arbitration procedure as the forum for the resolution of your dispute. To illustrate, in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court arbitrations, your case is judged by a panel of three attorneys. These lawyers are chosen at random from a list of all qualified lawyers who practice in Philadelphia County. The Arbitration Center tries to assure that the arbitration panel has one plaintiff’s lawyer, one insurance defense lawyer, and one lawyer who does neither plaintiff’s nor defense work.
The average Philadelphia personal injury arbitration takes no more than two hours to complete. The lawyers submit medical reports to prove the extent of the injuries. The rules of evidence are greatly relaxed so that the case can be tried quickly and efficiently. The arbitrators reach their decision immediately upon the conclusion of the hearing. This decision is communicated to the lawyers within four days in most cases. Jury trials, on the other hand, can take weeks or longer. Doctors and other expert witnesses must actually testify, and strict adherence to the rules for admission of evidence is required. Trials before judges, also known as bench trials, take much less time than jury trials but considerably more than arbitrations.
The amount of money damages you can obtain in an arbitration hearing may be limited to a certain dollar amount. This will vary from state to state and county to county. Trials before juries or judges without juries have no such limitations. If you have suffered a serious injury due to someone else’s negligence and there is adequate insurance coverage, you will want either a jury trial or a trial before a judge.
These types of trials are considerably more expensive than arbitration hearings. You will probably also have a longer wait before your case comes to trial if you choose a jury trial over an arbitration. Again, in arbitrations you may be able to prove your pain and suffering through your testimony and your medical reports alone. The added expense in jury and judge trials comes from the expert witness fees charged by doctors and other expert witnesses. This, as you might imagine, can cost several thousand dollars. Thus, if your case is on the borderline, that is, if the arbitration limit is $50,000, and you think the case is worth somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000, you will undoubtedly elect to have your case filed as an arbitration.
If the case is clearly worth more than $50,000, it is probably worth the wait and the additional expense involved with a jury trial. Your lawyer may be able to work out an arrangement with your doctor so that you do not have to pay the doctor’s fee for his or her testimony until your case settles.