You know what people hate? Jury duty.
Civic duty? Yes.
Sense of national pride and feeling like you’re contributing to society? Sure.
But there are likely 1001 things you’d rather be doing other than sitting on a jury. Particularly for a personal injury case.
As stated previously in the Toronto Injury Lawyer Blog; most jurors want to sit on a high profile murder or drug case. Nobody every wants to sit jury duty for a personal injury case hearing all day how a Plaintiff’s neck; back and shoulders hurt them.
Insurance companies know this.
So as a reflex, they file Jury Notices simultaneously with their Statements of Defence knowing that an angry jury; a bored jury; or a day dreaming jury is going to relent the Plaintiff and it will reflect in their decision.
In around two weeks time, the Toronto Civil Court trial sittings are going to begin; and with it so will jury trials. It will be the first time since the COVID related pandemic shutdown in mid-March 2020 that civil jury trials sittings will happen.
What are the Toronto Courts doing to accommodate jury trials during COVID?
Larger Court rooms to accommodate for physical distancing.
Witnesses can be made available via video conference.
Improved ventilation system in the Courtrooms (so I hear).
Jury selection to take place off site to accommodate for increased distancing.
Jurors are given a computer and a USB key of evidence so that they can review the documents on their own safely distanced (so I hear)
I’m sure there are a few other points where the Toronto are doing their best to make the Courtrooms as safe as possible for jury trials.
But imagine for a moment that you’ve been selected for jury duty in Toronto during the Pandemic.
It’s not like the COVID numbers are going down now that the kids are back in school and the weather is cooling down. The COVID numbers are going in the wrong direction such that everyone needs to be on high alert.
Just the thought of leaving the house can be panic inducing.
Nonetheless, if you’ve been chosen for jury duty, you’re expected to show up or risk being held in contempt which isn’t a good thing.
The first place you’ll need to go is to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre downtown. Parking ain’t cheap if you’re driving. Traffic isn’t great at the best of times and hasn’t lightened up as much as you would expect. It’s a luxury to have a car and to drive. Many people won’t be so lucky as to drive downtown and pay for parking for jury selection. (Note: the Court may pay for a free parking pass, but this has not been confirmed)
The reality is that most potential jurors will likely take public transit to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre because it’s affordable and fast and they may not have access to their own vehicle. A straight subway; or a streetcar/bus transfer to the subway will do the trick. Problem is that once you’re on public transit, you’re putting yourself at risk.
Let’s assume that the Jury Pool is 200 people. Of those 200 people, 100 have taken public transit to get to jury selection downtown. It sounds like an unnecessary risk but it’s going to happen. Ask yourself whether or not you would you be comfortable participating in the process?
As for the trial itself, this poses its own set of unique issues.
You’re getting 6 jurors, 1 Judge, 1 Court Clerk, 1 Bailiff, 2 Plaintiff Lawyers; 2 Defendant Lawyers; and potentially 1 party; 1 witness and maybe a translator all in the same Courtroom together. You’re looking at around 13-15 people or so in the same room for weeks and weeks. I suppose that they’re forming their own work bubble. But that bubble will be exposed to the people everyone comes in contact with on the TTC; with their children, families etc.
What happens if a Juror gets sick or shows symptoms?
Do you think these Jurors are going to be focus on the job at hand; or focusing on their anxiety of contracting COVID while they are stuffed in to an old downtown courtroom?
One thing we have learned during the pandemic is that large groups should not congregate for extended periods of time indoors.
Unfortunately, we are enforcing and encouraging the exact opposite by re-introducing civil jury trials in the way we are.
If the legal profession wants to set a better example for society as a whole in terms of coping COVID, we have to find a better way of getting the job done.
There are cases out of Ottawa whereby Jury Notices have been struck so that the trial can proceed by way of Judge alone. By doing so, you have eliminated 6 people from the Courtroom to reduce exposure and risk.
There was a recent case out of the Toronto where the Plaintiff attempted to strike the jury notice but it was rejected.
Is it really necessary?
In the majority of cases it’s the Defendant Insurer who insists on a Jury Trial; and it’s the Plaintiff who tries to push against the Jury Trial.
For those proponents of a Jury Trial insisting that it’s a fundamental principal of justice to be tried by a group of their peers. Sure. In a murder case where the life and liberty of the accused are at stake. But in a car accident case where the only thing at stake is the compensation owing to the Plaintiff? That’s a fancy way of saying that nobody’s life, liberty or security of the person is at stake; it’s only about money in these cases.
I would also add for those proponents of the “sacred and just jury trial“; if it’s a fundamental principal of justice to be tried by a group of peers; then why is this group of peers left out of the dark at trial when it comes to:
- Who the insurance company is who represents and pays for any award (the name of the insurance company is not included in the title of proceedings and is not to be mentioned at trial)
- Lawyers cannot mention the $40,000 statutory deductible at trial to the jury and how it works and impacts damage awards. This $40,000 statutory deductible acts as a secret credit for the Defendant insurance company and is the dirtiest secret which insurers wish to keep hidden from the jury.
I suppose that the good news about being a juror now is that you may be on the CERB at the time of your jury duty so that you’re getting some form of pay while sitting Jury Duty.
But chances are most jurors will be more focused on and anxious about the pandemic rather than the case at hand. This is a job anyone would dread at this point in time.