Despite the judicial system in the United States being founded on the “trial by jury,” towards the end of the 1990s, there was a large drop in the amount of jury trials throughout the nation. In all trials — civil and criminal — the percentage of cases that went to trial dropped from 12% in 1970 to 3% in 1999. In civil trials, despite the number of filed cases increasing by 152%, the total number of trials dropped from 11.5% to 1.8%.
Why has there been such a dramatic decrease in the number of cases going to trial? What is causing more and more cases to be settled outside of the courts? A number of potential contributing factors have been argued by commentators.
Why Have the Number of Jury Trials Decreased?
One potential contributing factor claims that Americans no longer believe that the civil justice system serves the average individual. The argument claims the change in courtroom culture creates overly aggressive attorneys, tenacious approaches to lawsuits, high costs, and a backlog in the judicial system. People are hesitant to invest time and money into going to court because they feel as though it won’t do them any good anyway.
One other potential reason for the decline of jury trials? The idea that defendants will be subject to paying enormous verdicts. With the history of verdicts growing, many defendants are afraid of trial by jury and do whatever possible to get out of the situation with a cheaper settlement. Insurance companies are quick to offer low settlements in order to avoid potentially large verdicts, and with the plaintiff often willing to avoid the trial process, they take the offer.
The Change in Courtroom Culture
In jury trials, the addition of delay tactics and prolonged evidence discovery has stretched how long the process takes. In turn, the costs have skyrocketed due to court and attorney fees. Large corporations use this to their advantage, deterring plaintiffs from taking legal action and offering less-than-favorable settlements in lieu of a lawsuit.The importance of jury trials remains and so does the need for individuals who have been harmed to come forward against those who have wronged them. Seeking compensation and seeking justice means taking action and working to make a change for a better future.