This Article evaluates the role of the American civil jury from a comparative and empirical point of view to challenge the most common arguments of its critics and advocates.
The United States of America is one of the last developed nations to employ juries in civil proceedings. While its supporters celebrate the civil jury as a symbol of democracy, critics on both sides of the Atlantic raise accusations of impartiality and arbitrariness. A California jury’s recent damages award against SAP in the record amount of $ 1.3 billion provides further fuel to the heated debate. Despite its critics, the Supreme Court has consistently expanded the scope of the VIIth Amendment’s right to a civil jury.
This Article discusses this jurisprudence, the civil jury’s composition, the rights and obligations of its members, as well as their verdict and its scope for judicial review. A careful review of empirical data fails to confirm many of the jury’s alleged biases, including the plaintiff-bias or the bias against defendants with deep pockets. Jury participation in civil cases, however, imposes a far greater procedural burden on the parties – both in time and money – than trial by judge alone. This burden weighs all the heavier as the American rule of cost does not normally allow the victorious party to recover its legal expenses.