Do I have a right to a jury trial in personal injury claims?
Last month the Nova Scotia Supreme Court decided to strike a jury notice and prevent a jury trial.
The case (Anderson v. Cyr) involved a motor vehicle accident in Halifax. The defendants admitted that they were at fault for the accident but they denied the injuries of the plaintiff were caused by their negligence. The defendants wanted a jury trial while the plaintiff sought a judge alone trial.
In considering the plaintiff's motion to strike the jury notice, Justice Wright considered the complexities and technicalities involved in the case and concluded that it would be better heard by a judge sitting alone.
Wright J. reasoned that a judge sitting alone would be able to take the time to properly analyse the complicated medical records that would be at issue in the case. The motion to strike the jury notice was granted.
The Court recognized that:
“...there is a longstanding, traditional and substantive right of a party to a civil action in this province to a jury trial.”
However, Justice Wright's principle reason for striking the jury notice was that the substantive evidence in the case was highly technical and scientific, so that it would not likely be comprehensible to a reasonably informed juror.
The plaintiff had filed more than 50 reports from 26 different experts or health providers. One of the plaintiff’s witnesses, neurologist Dr. D. King, referred to the case as being: “one of the most complex and difficult ones he has ever dealt with in his long experience.”
Out of the ordinary
This was an interesting case because the "common wisdom" is that plaintiffs prefer jury trials whereas defendants do not.
In this case the defendant wanted a jury and plaintiff did not. Usually, in medical malpractice cases, the defendant doctors try to strike out (prevent) jury trials arguing that the medical evidence is too complicated for the average juror to understand. In fact on my Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog, I posted about a Nova Scotia case where Justice MacAdam denied the plaintiff's request for a jury trial.
In that case, Anderson v. QEII Health Sciences Centre, the plaintiff suffered a brain injury and wished to proceed against the hospital and two physicians in front of a jury. The defendants moved to strike the jury notice. The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal upheld Justice MacAdam’s decision to strike the jury notice due to the complexities of the case.
Be careful what you ask for
I have mixed feelings about the Cyr decision. The danger with a decision like this is that it makes it harder for plaintiffs in complex cases (such as medical malpractice claims) to get jury trials.
The Courts have consistently recognized the right of parties to a jury trial. I think it is problematic for plaintiff's to be in the position of arguing that jurors are not sophisticated enough to understand complex medical evidence.
What do you think?