Most people are familiar with jury trials in criminal cases, where defendants are “tried by a jury of their peers” before conviction. What most people outside the legal system might not realize is that jury trials are also used in civil cases. That means that for car accident injuries, medical malpractice injuries, or other personal injury cases may go before a jury. Even in divorce and child custody hearings, it may be technically possible to request a jury trial – though it is very rare. The family law and personal injury attorneys at The Queenan Law Firm explain how Texas handles jury trials, and when they are used.
Jury Trials in the Texas Constitution
Art. 1, § 15 of the Texas Constitution guarantees that “The right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.” Even further, art. V, § 10 of the Texas Constitution clarifies that jury trials are available, specifically in civil cases, if one party demands it and pays for it.
What this means is that any party taking a case to trial is allowed to demand a jury trial. This can be helpful if you think a judge might not accept your side of the story, but everyday people might. This can be especially helpful in cases where a judge might be too experienced to understand the case compassionately.
In any jury trial in Texas, the case will either have the standard 12 jurors, or only six jurors if it is held in a county court, municipal court, justice of the peace court, or probate court (for wills). While 12 is the standard number of jurors in film and television, there is no legal requirement to hold a trial with 12 jurors, and Texas often uses only six.
Decisions made by a jury do not need to be unanimous in a civil case. In a criminal case, jurors must be 100% agreed on a “guilty” or “not guilty” verdict. In civil cases, the question is not whether someone is “guilty,” but whether someone was negligent, whether someone broke a contract, or whether someone supplied grounds for divorce, for example. These kinds of questions require a five-sixths majority. That means in a jury of 12, at least 10 must agree, and in a jury of six, at least five must agree.
Are Jury Trials Popular in Texas?
In short, jury trials are not very popular for civil cases, anywhere in the country. Often, taking a case to trial means more than a year of preparation, court filings, depositions, evidence collection, discovery, and other processes. All of this usually leads up to a trial that lasts only a few days – in most cases. Arriving at that point, though, is often very expensive and time-consuming.
The cost and time are the primary reasons most cases do not go to trial. Instead, most cases will settle before trial begins. The term “settle,” is sometimes synonymous with “give up,” but in a civil case, this is not the case. Often, when you are injured or otherwise struggling to prove your case, settlement is an excellent outcome. What this means is that, instead of making you prove your case to a jury, the other side accepts responsibility and pays you the compensation you deserve.
Sometimes, because a case is so strong or because the expected jury award is much higher than any settlement offers, your attorney may advise you to reject settlement offers and take the case to trial. In that case, you may be able to win much higher damages than the other side is willing to settle for. Other times, the defense’s case is so weak that they are willing to settle for high amounts rather than face the time and cost of taking a case to trial.
One other tool available to plaintiffs, like personal injury victims, is a “contingency fee basis.” Sometimes, an attorney will agree to take your case on a contingency fee basis, meaning the attorney is paid from a percentage of your winnings. Contingent fee agreements may still cost you money, but may make legal services more affordable by reducing up-front costs. This also puts the defendant in a situation where they must choose between continuing to pay legal fees and fight the case, or settle. While every lawyer’s legal strategy may differ, this is certainly something to consider when entertaining a settlement offer.
Texas Civil Trial Attorneys
The lawyers at The Queenan Law Firm have been fighting cases in jury trials for over 20 years, and may be able to take your case too. More importantly, our attorneys’ experience helps them know what your case is worth and whether settlement or trial is a better option. Call The Queenan Firm, P.C., today for a free consultation. Our number is (817) 476-1797.