The purpose of this series of articles is to describe and interpret the 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights, which were adopted in 1789 and which distinguish the United States Constitution from those of other countries. Both sides of the arguments for or against a particular amendment will be given, leaving the reader free to make their own interpretation.
"In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed $20, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."
The absolute right to a jury in civil cases in federal and state courts in Tennessee is not such an absolute right after all.
In federal civil courts, the size of the jury is often reduced from 12 to six members because of economic considerations. Whether the reduction in the size of the jury in civil cases favors either the plaintiff or defendant is still a topic of debate. Both sides often contend that the smaller juries allow for a strong juror more likely to dominate the proceedings because of the smaller number of voices to dissent. Obviously, this factor can be to the benefit (or detriment) of either the plaintiff or defendant.
In approximately 1919, Tennessee did away with the right to a jury trial in workers' compensation cases. Now, the Tennessee General Assembly has practically eliminated the right to have a duly selected judge decide workers' compensation issues. A special workers' compensation “czar” appointed by the governor of Tennessee and several appointed workers' compensation judges will decide these types of cases with limited appellate review.
The debate in this new procedure is that with pro-business entities in control of the Legislature, will that lead to the appointment of more business-friendly judges? That could lead to lower workers' compensation cost reductions in insurance premiums for the companies and increased profits for the businesses and stockholders.
The other side of the debate contends that the new procedure will result in fewer workers' compensation benefits for injured workers and require injured workers to keep working even when they sustain injuries that were previously sufficient to allow substantial medical leave time.
Business interests contend that reducing workers' compensation costs will attract more businesses to Tennessee. Labor unions and trial lawyers contend that legitimate benefits will be reduced by the appointment of pro-business judges and that only business profits will increase.
Time will tell whether this latest step in removing workers' compensation cases from the court system will benefit either side.
For more information on the topics discussed, visit the firm’s website at www.summersandwyatt.com or call 423-265-2385. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.