The vanishing jury trial is perhaps one of the most important issues facing the civil justice system today. Civil trials have declined in federal courts from 12 percent in 1984 to less than 1 percent in 2010. Statistics from state courts, though more difficult to obtain, generally show the same trends. The issue has been widely studied, and while the fact of the vanishing trial is clear, the reasons for the decline are less obvious. Several theories have been advanced, ranging from a dramatic rise in case filings and under-funded court systems to the ever-increasing cost of litigation and the success of alternative dispute resolution.
In 2010, DRI created the Jury Preservation Task Force (JPTF) to examine and inform the membership of issues impacting civil jury trials. The work of the JPTF is now underway. In 2011, the JPTF conducted multiple surveys concerning issues impacting civil jury trials. Survey respondents included State and Local Defense Organization (SLDO) leaders and participants in both the DRI Insurance and Corporate Counsel Roundtables. The JPTF is now in the process of examining the survey results along with the significant body of research available on the vanishing jury trial and the initiatives being proposed to address the problem. The JPTF, in collaboration with DRI’s Trial Tactics Committee, will publish the results of its findings in a future edition of For the Defense.