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Are Business Owners Afraid of the US Jury System?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. | Last updated on

As a business, is a jury trial your friend or your foe? It seems that the general impression is that small businesses and juries don't mix.

Maybe part of the reason why businesses seem to be hesitant toward jury trials is the media impression and the generalization of juries being sympathetic toward alleged victims of a business' greed and misdeeds.

Case in point: tobacco company Philip Morris has been slammed with huge jury verdicts in the past, with one jury once awarding a plaintiff $3 billion in punitive damages and $5.5 million in general damages.

However, should businesses really be this afraid of juries? Some experts and commentators have pointed out that businesses spend an inordinate amount of money on fighting a jury trial before the jury is even seated.

Maybe this money could be better spent in settling the litigation, or in preparing for trial in itself.

After all, a large component of having a jury system in the first place is so that that an impartial jury made up of peers will hear the case and judge the facts and evidence.

Business owners likely worry that jurors will ignore their oath to be impartial. But, this is why attorneys and jury consultants exist. While there is undoubtedly some number of biased jurors that might sneak their way onto a jury, the legal system and the jury selection process is geared towards weeding out potential bias.

The voir dire process, which is the process where potential jurors are questioned by both the plaintiff and the defendant, is a helpful tool to discover any hidden bias or to address concerns about impartiality.

While businesses and juries may seem like they are something that should not be mixed together, maybe as a business, a jury trial is something that you might not need to fight tooth and nail to avoid. Of course there are alternatives to trial, like mediation, arbitration or settlement, which can also be a way to resolve legal problems.

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