Before COVID-19, Texas courts heard approximately 186 jury trials each week. Between March 12 and August 28, 2020, there were only 20 jury trials heard in our state. Currently, there are thousands of cases waiting for a trial in Texas, and the number is growing every day.
On August 28, 2020, Texas issued new recommendations about jury trials and the pandemic, signaling that we will see an increase in trial dates and virtual options. In this blog, we’ll outline the key points of these recommendations and explain how they might impact your personal injury claim.
The Coronavirus Put Most Jury Trials on Hold, But Texas’ Courts Never Stopped Working
Texas’ courts acted decisively during the early days of the pandemic. On March 5, 2020, Texas reported its first COVID-19 case. By March 12, the courts had delayed all non-essential court hearings, suspended all jury trials, and began exploring virtual hearings and trials. Our state held its first fully virtual court hearing on March 17.
Since then, Texas’ judges have held an estimated 440,000 virtual hearings that involved a remarkable 1.3 million participants. While there were some technical challenges, the vast majority of these hearings went smoothly. The commitment of Texas’ judges, bailiffs, and other courthouse personnel should be celebrated.
Bexar County Hasn’t Held a Jury Trial Yet
While virtual jury trials are permitted in Texas, Bexar County has not yet held its first jury trial. That’s not for lack of trying. Currently, all parties to a lawsuit must agree to a virtual jury trial. While the Crosley Law team has proposed virtual trials in dozens of personal injury cases, insurance companies are insisting on in-person trials. The earliest we’ll see in-person trials is October 1, but they could be delayed even more if COVID-19 cases spike. The state will also have to address the massive backlog in pending jury trials, which will also slow things down.
Insurance companies think they can benefit from prolonged waiting times and the backlog. As people wait longer and longer for their trial date, more of them will become desperate. Some will accept unreasonably low settlement offers rather than wait. This insurance company tactic is frustrating and unscrupulous. It’s also fully within the rules at this time — but that may change soon.
Texas Recommends Court-Ordered Virtual Trials
In its August 28 recommendations, the Office of Court Administration suggests that in civil matters, judges should be able to schedule jury trials without consent from both parties. However, the court administration office must first create detailed guidelines and ensure that all jurors have access to technology and a reliable internet connection.
These recommendations are now before the Supreme Court of Texas for consideration. Notably, Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht has signaled his support for jury trials, stating:
A hallmark of our justice system is the right to a jury trial. The pandemic has challenged our ability to safely deliver on that promise, but through the efforts of many Texas judges, clerks, court staff, and attorneys over the past few months, today we have a roadmap to resuming those jury trials, even if that roadmap will be restricted to ensure the health and safety of the public.
Crosley Law is carefully monitoring this developing issue.
Bexar County is also preparing for the return of jury trials. Beginning on September 21, 2020, the county’s court will hold voluntary, non-binding virtual jury trials. These non-binding trials serve several purposes:
- Bexar County’s court administrators will be able to identify any challenges or issues with their jury trial system
- Parties will receive honest feedback about the strength of their cases, which might encourage settlement
- As the courts successfully handle these non-binding trials, the process will gain credibility
If the Supreme Court of Texas approves the OCA’s recommendations, these non-binding trials will be a precursor to mandatory virtual trials in personal injury and other civil cases. However, it’s unlikely jury trials will occur in Bexar County before 2021.
At Crosley Law, we’re ready to start trying cases again. Our founding attorney Tom Crosley says that while he’s not enthusiastic about virtual jury trials, he prefers them to no trials at all.
“We’re prepared to try cases virtually, but the insurance companies won’t consent to this option,” Tom says. “I’m hopeful that these new recommendations will level the playing field.”
Crosley Law: Experienced Trial Lawyers and Advocates in San Antonio
At Crosley Law, we love trying cases. Our team embraces the opportunity to explain complicated legal concepts and medical issues to our neighbors, and we pride ourselves on our cutting-edge jury presentations. We’re also deeply committed to San Antonio and Texas.
If you have questions about how COVID-19 will impact your personal injury claim, call Crosley Law today at 210-LAW-3000 | 210-529-3000 or use our quick contact form. We’ll set up your free consultation so you can get expert legal advice about your situation at no cost.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.