Here’s Something Everyone Should Know


Here’s the picture: While attending a dinner party, you happen upon a stranger who engages you in a conversation. The conversation begins with the usual conversation starters about the weather and sports and then takes a sudden turn. The stranger begins sharing with you his thoughts about lawyers and personal injury lawsuits. You expect the stranger to excoriate personal injury lawyers and tell you how lawsuits are destroying our economy.

You’re ready to slip out the back door when to your surprise, the stranger shares with you stories of lawsuits that have had a positive effect in promoting safety. Believe it or not, the stranger tells you that the McDonald’s coffee case involved egregious wrongdoing by McDonald’s that resulted in severe injury to a 79-year-old in New Mexico. You know this is true but you still can’t believe what you’re hearing. You walk away from the conversation believing that (maybe) there is hope for personal injury victims and their lawyers.

Why is this scenario so shocking? It almost never happens, that’s why. It’s not your fault. Roughly 25 years ago, we began hearing a never-ending stream of media reports of absurd and ridiculous lawsuits where the “victim” recovered exorbitant sums of money for minor injuries. Who doesn’t hate hearing that? (this is a rhetorical question, in case you’re not sure). As a result of the media barrage about some crazy personal injury case, the vast majority of the public believes that almost every personal injury lawsuit is frivolous and that the injury victim is merely trying to collect on a lottery ticket called a lawsuit. When you begin a personal injury lawsuit, you have TWO STRIKES against you with the jury.

Now that I’ve got your attention, I’m going to tell you what everyone should know. Personal injury lawyers do not trust juries. That’s right, we don’t trust the persons who make the decision about the trial. Most personal injury lawyers will never admit this, but I will share a secret with you: lawyers for personal injury victims would rather have their trial decided by a judge than a jury.

In a “bench trial”, the judge takes the role of the jury and renders the “verdict” at the end of the trial. In virtually all cases, the plaintiff has ensured a thorough, rational decision from the judge. Justice is served at the end of the day in bench trials.

A jury is much less predictable. Think of the OJ jury–who would have thought OJ would be acquitted of murder when his blood was found at the crime scene and his victims’ blood was found in the bathroom of his mansion? Not me! Juries make decisions that in some cases are irrational and make little sense. I truly appreciate the time and commitment of jurors but all it takes is a single irrational juror to change the outcome of a trial.

So, you don’t believe me? How’s this: Whenever I file a request for a jury trial in New York, the defense lawyers almost always file a demand for a jury trial (that’s right, the defense has an equal right to a trial by jury). Now, let me ask you this: If juries are handing out money for bogus claims, why do defense lawyers insist upon jury trials? Defense lawyers realize that they start the trial with two strikes against the injury victim and that they are only one strike away from beating the injury victim’s case.

The next time that someone tells you over a dinner conversation that juries are handing out huge sums of money for ridiculous personal injury cases, think of this article and have a chuckle. But, whatever you do, don’t tell the stranger that he is wrong. You will never convince anyone that personal injury lawsuits promote safety and help establish safety standards. But just maybe you will encounter a stranger who shares the view that personal injury lawsuits are good for society.