Are There Benefits Of A “Bench Trial” Over A Jury Trial?

With very few exceptions, law firms representing personal injury victims automatically ask for jury trials at the conclusion of disclosure proceedings. Lawyers seem to request jury trials without considering whether a jury trial will be better for their client than a bench trial and the rationale seems to be simply, “this is what everyone else does”.  Bad reasoning, if in fact there is any reasoning at all.

As a general rule, I do not ask for jury trials.  Before I file a “note of issue” (the document in New York that certifies the lawsuit as trial ready), I ask for the permission of the client to waive their right to a jury trial and proceed to trial without a jury.  In a bench trial, a judge acts as the judge and jury and the judge makes the “verdict” (or in a bench trial, the “decision”) as to whether the clients prevails.

Why do I request bench trials when every other plaintiff’s lawyer wants a jury trial? Very simple: with a judge, I am almost certain that my clients will receive a rationale result based on the evidence that is fair to both sides.  That is precisely what I want.  My cases are (hopefully if I have done my job) very strong on the merits and have a high likelihood of success, at least before a rationale factfinder.

While I respect the time and commitment of jurors, all it takes is one wingnut to ruin my client’s case. In some cases, juries can render decisions that are unpredictable and not supported by the evidence. Hey, just look at the OJ verdict that still has everyone scratching our heads in disbelief.  I would rather entrust my client’s case to a judge than a jury because there is less risk of an “OJ jury”, i.e., a jury that disregards the evidence and makes a verdict based on personal opinions that are in some cases irrational.

I am not opposed to jury trials.  It is just that I must assess in every case whether a jury trial is better for my clients than a bench trial and in the last 12-13 years, I have picked a bench trial in almost every case.  Hopefully, lawyers and clients reading this will at least consider whether a bench trial is a better choice for their client’s case than a jury trial.