The Trial Lawyer Summer 2018 - Page 61

The right to jury trial in criminal cases was secured by the framers when they incorporated it directly into the main body of the U . S . Constitution . However , they did not provide for the right to civil jury trial , or any of the other individual liberties listed in the Bill of Rights . In fact , the U . S . Constitution was nearly defeated over its failure to guarantee the right to civil jury trial . In 1791 , during its first session , congress drafted the Bill of Rights , securing the right to civil jury trial in the 7 th Amendment .
The American system has always considered the civil jury a critical part of our democratic government because more than any other single institution , juries give citizens the opportunity to participate in government , which both educates and enhances their regard for the American system of justice . Jury service is the only place where average citizens can participate directly in government in a way that has a direct impact on events .
Civil jury verdicts are public , and they affect all interests of the community and represent the American idea of justice . Civil juries are often referred to as the “ conscience of the community ” and they stand as indispensable guardians over corporate negligence and corruption . Civil jury verdicts have led to significant improvements in the safety of consumer products , industrial machines and healthcare products . They have deterred arbitrary use of power by officials and employers , and the civil jury trial is often the only way for victims of civil rights violations to obtain justice . It is well recognized that product manufacturers , hospitals , pharmaceutical companies , and other defendants in personal injury actions have redesigned products , improved medical care , and have taken other steps to improve or save lives following jury trials and verdicts .
In 2008 , my firm and I took on a case with the intent of making far-reaching changes in the pharmaceutical and medical fields . Over 100 Las Vegas residents were infected with hepatitis C as a result of faulty injection practices fueled by the drug companies ’ increasing profits at any costs attitude . The drug companies knew the risk of hepatitis C transfer and notified the Federal Drug Administration ( FDA ) of such risks well before the Las Vegas outbreak ; but to save money , they packaged their drug in an unsafe and cheaper form . In 2010 , the first of several Las Vegas civil jury trials ensued garnering a $ 505 million verdict for a headmaster and his wife of a prestigious local high school who contracted hepatitis C during an endoscopic procedure . The next verdict we obtained was for $ 183 million , and the verdict after that was obtained by another firm for just over $ 100 million . Finally , during the last trial where we were convinced the verdict would be over $ 1 billion , ( and we believe the defense attorneys were equally convinced ), the cases were finally settled .
Those verdicts allowed the victims that my firm represented to receive the compensation they deserved . They also allowed other firms in our jurisdiction to obtain settlements higher than they would have , had these trials not occurred . It is well known in our community that the cases that settled early , before these verdicts , settled for significantly less . More importantly , injection practices were changed nationwide in an attempt to prevent this type of outbreak from occurring as it had on multiple prior occasions in other parts of the United States and around the world . I am confident these practices would not have changed without these jury trials and verdicts .
As you can see , the civil jury trial is more than a process for bringing a grievance to resolution . It is a pillar of our democracy necessary for the protection of individuals against tyranny , repression , and mayhem , and to deter such injustices in the future . Jurors do their duty with no further ambition that their decisions could result in some future advantage for themselves . Jurors come to court , deliberate , and go back to their homes and work , with the public and themselves better off for their service . In other words , the civil jury trial system cannot be bought . It is our purest form of justice .
Jurors differ from judges because of the values they bring to cases and the freedom they have to apply those values . And as former chief justice William Rehnquist aptly noted , the right to civil jury trial was guaranteed by our Bill of Rights “ precisely because the framers believed that they might receive a different result at the hands of a jury of their peers than at the mercy of the sovereign ’ s judges .”
In his book We The Judges , the late U . S . Supreme Court Justice William Douglas wrote :
A jury reflects the attitudes and mores of the community from which it is drawn . It lives only for the day and does justice according to its lights . The group of 12 who are drawn to hear a case , makes the decision and melts away . It is not present the next day to be criticized . it is the one governmental agency that has no ambition … it is as human as the people who make it up . It is sometimes the victim of passions . But it also takes the sharp edges off a law and uses conscience to ameliorate a hardship . Since it is of and from the community , it gives the law an acceptance which verdicts of judges could not do .
Juries have more latitude than judges to make difficult and unpopular decisions . They deliberate in secret , they don ’ t have to explain their decisions , and they are typically protected by rules which limit post-verdict interviews . Studies show that jurors uniformly rate both their experience and the jury system highly while citing their service as being a major and moving experience in their lives . While prospective jurors often grumble over their duty to serve , I am always impressed at how proud and grateful they are for having served .
When disputes are resolved without trial there is no public record , which allows wrongdoers to suppress information about dangerous products , defective drugs , negligent professionals , and other wrongdoing . The United States Supreme Court and constitutional scholars have repeatedly pointed out the right to civil jury trial was embraced by our nation ’ s founders not because juries were the most economical way of resolving disputes , but , far more fundamentally , because “ in important instances …[ A ] jury would reach a result that the judge either could not or would not reach .” And as one commentator
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