Resuming In-Person Jury Trials in South Florida

Over the past year, with both the United States as well as South Florida in particular having suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic in more ways than one can possibly count, from the loss of life to the shuttering of businesses and negative consequences for both employment and the economy, the civil and criminal justice systems have been paralyzed like virtually every other part of life in the United States.  Although most judges have figured out (not without some initial difficulties) how to handle hearings via Zoom, jury trials, like many in-person proceedings across all parts of life, have been essentially suspended.

Multiple vaccines have been approved by the FDA and are slowly rolling out across Florida, providing an additional layer of protection for potential jurors lucky enough to receive the vaccine.  Florida counties are also opening, or have already begun to open, their courthouse doors for in-person jury trials to resume.  There are new restrictions in place as to who can attend trials as well as the number of trials that are taking place as well, but this gradual re-opening is expected to continue as the pandemic is brought under control, allowing victims of someone else’s negligence to have their day in court before a jury of their peers.

Jury Trials During the Pandemic

At the outset of the pandemic, the Florida Supreme Court issued a variety of orders and directives canceling in-person jury trials across the state.  The Supreme Court eventually began allowing, and in fact encouraging, the various trial courts to try out different pilot programs for resolving cases, such as trials by Zoom, different types of settlement conferences and other approaches.  Many of these pilot programs were successful in resolving any number of cases, but they can only do so much.  People have a constitutional right to a trial before a jury of their peers, and there are some cases in which a trial is the only way to obtain maximum compensation for a victim of someone else’s negligence.

Nevertheless, given that hundreds if not thousands of civil jury trials were taking place every day in courtrooms around the state at any given time prior to the pandemic, there is a backlog of tens of thousands of cases that need to be set for trials once the courts are back up and running.  Nevertheless, that appears to be just over the horizon in South Florida.

Approaches by the South Florida Courts to Jury Trials during the Pandemic

During the past year, virtually no jury trials have taken place in any state or federal court in South Florida outside of a handful of state court cases in Palm Beach County in late November and early December.  In Palm Beach County, the court began in-person jury trials in late November and was able to complete five trials before a spike in cases prompted the Court to put the brakes on further trials until the caseload had decreased.  The court announced in late January that it would begin more widespread trials.  In Miami-Dade County, the Chief Judge announced on February 10th that the county’s courts would resume limited in-person jury trials on March 1st, while Broward County made an announcement on the same day, with the date of trials beginning March 8th.

Just for purposes of comparison, according to Palm Beach County court statistics, in 2019, there were 1,434 trials in the county, while in 2020 there were 533 trials that took place, with only five of those taking place after widespread social distancing and other regulations were put into place beginning in March 2020.  Therefore, and although a number of cases have been resolved through mediation and the pilot programs, there is still a huge backlog of cases that will need to be tried once the courts are back up and functioning 100%.

Contact Schwed, Adams & McGinley

 At Schwed Adams & McGinley, P.A., our experienced personal injury attorneys have more than 150 years of combined legal experience, including hundreds if not thousands of jury trials.  Regardless of when things are back to normal, we will fight as hard as we can to ensure that you obtain the full compensation you are entitled to under Florida law for your injuries caused by someone else’s negligence, whether in settlement negotiations or at trial. No matter the type of accident or scenario in which you were injured by someone else’s negligence, contact our experienced attorneys at contact@schwedlawfirm.com or (877) 694-6079 for a free consultation today if you have been injured or a loved one has been injured in Florida due to someone else’s negligence.