Virginia’s Vanishing Jury

The number of juries deciding civil cases in Virginia has significantly declined over the past ten years. The trend, which legal experts refer to as the “vanishing jury,” has swept Charlottesville, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the nation as a whole. According to the Virginia Supreme Court statistics, there were 2,042 civil jury trials in Virginia in 1999. In 2009, the number of civil jury trials dropped to 570, a 72 percent decrease.

From the viewpoint of an attorney who represents people in automobile accidents in Charlottesville and Virginia, this is an amazingly few number of trials. Of the 570 civil trials, many of them were not personal injury cases – they could include contract cases and other civil disputes. While we do not have the exact figures of how many Virginia Personal Injury cases were filed, I could venture an educated guess that about half were personal injury cases. If I am correct, this means there were only about 285 personal injury cases tried last year in Virginia.

Taking it a step further, I personally try around four or five cases a year. This could mean that there are as few as 100 attorneys who tried Virginia Personal Injury Cases last year. Few attorneys are getting experience trying personal injury cases each year. This example illustrates the importance of hiring an attorney that has a successful track record of taking personal injury claims all the way to court.

The cost of taking a case to trial is most likely the biggest factor behind the vanishing jury trend. Resolving a civil case by trial is often a big, expensive gamble. The costs associated with going to trial – trial preparation, filing fees, and compensation of court reporters, physicians and expert witnesses – can be very expensive. Cost, however, is not the only factor associated with the decline of civil jury trials. Clients often have to wait years before their case goes to trial which is unappealing to injured victims with piles of overdue medical bills. An increase in the use of other forms of resolution, including arbitration and mediation, might also play a role in this vanishing jury trend.