a city with tall buildings

Why are Some Cases Decided by Judges and Some by Juries?

Why are Some Cases Decided by Judges and Some by Juries?



You may not realize it, but it’s your Constitutional right under the Seventh Amendment to the Federal Constitution to have a jury trial in common law matters exceeding $20.00 in value!  The relevant part of the Seventh Amendment states:

“In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved . . .”

Why then aren’t all civil cases decided by a jury?  It would seem that juries guarantee that your case will be decided by an impartial group of fact-finders.   Leaving the decision to one judge who may have personal political leanings can be risky.  Of course, all people have some degree of bias (for example, I love the Phillies! And hate the Dallas Cowboys!).  Jury trials, however, minimize the chances of bias in that it requires that the decision in your case will be shared by a group of people who have no relationship to either party.

Why then doesn’t every case go to a jury?

First, a jury trial must be requested.  Make sure that your attorney knows that you are requesting a jury trial.  Be aware, however, that jury trials generally take longer and generally are more expensive to try.  On the other hand, jury verdicts have the potential to create explosive verdict amounts, although litigation results are always uncertain.

Sometimes, lawyers and their clients decide that a case might be easier handled by a judge with specialized training in the law.  For example, where issues are complex, or where a particular judge has a reputation for fairness, litigants may chose to forego having their rights determined by a jury of strangers empanelled from the voter rolls of Philadelphia County.

Second, some claims do not involve matters exceeding $20.00 in value!  Those cases do not qualify for a jury trial!  For example, a motion for a restraining order seeks an Order requiring or prohibiting certain behavior.  Because the claim does not seek money, the Seventh Amendment $20.00 requirement is not met.

Other claims do not involve issues at common law, and instead the litigant’s right to sue comes from a statute that does not permit a jury trial.  For example, the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Statute creates a right to seek money, but not before a jury.  Thus, in Pennsylvania, all Workman Compensation claims are tried before a worker’s compensation judge.

Fortunately, most, (but not all) automobile accident claims contain a right to a trial by jury.  In fact, it is generally only claims where you and your insurance carrier agree by contract to arbitrate will you not be able to demand a jury. Such contractual claims, for example, may be for uninsured motorist benefits or underinsured motorist benefits.   Those types of claims are generally required to be decided by arbitration panels jointly selected by the insurance company and the policy holder.

But by and large, if you are injured in a car accident, the chances are that you have a right to have your case heard by a jury.  In Philadelphia, and in other counties and states, the Courts may have diversion programs that require you to first arbitrate the case before you can have a jury hear your case.  You should discuss this with your lawyer to learn more.  At Geoffrey B. Gompers & Associates, our attorneys have experience at all levels.  We will be happy to discuss your automobile case with you at no charge for the initial consultation.

If you’ve been an automobile accident, call the Philadelphia auto accident lawyers at Geoffrey B. Gompers & Associates to discuss whether you are entitled to compensation for your injuries and other damages. We have offices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Voorhees, New Jersey, and are available to meet with you at your convenience. Call us today at 215-567-6600 for a free consultation or contact us online.