In-Person Civil Jury Trials Resume In Philadelphia: What To Know Moving Forward – Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration
After suspending civil and criminal jury trials on March 17,
2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philadelphia County Court of
Common Pleas resumed in-person civil jury trials on March 4, 2021.
This decision was based on public health guidance and the
recommendations of the CDC, as well as state and local public
health officials. As of April 7, 2021, nearly 400 civil cases have
been scheduled for in-person jury trials in 2021. One hundred-sixty
are major jury trials with dates certain (mostly on the complex
litigation track), seventy are major jury pool cases (on the
expedited and standard tracks), one hundred-fifty are arbitration
appeals, and two are mass tort cases.
Of the nearly 400 civil cases scheduled for in-person jury
trials, forty jury trials were scheduled for March 2021, eleven of
which were major jury cases. Of the forty trials scheduled, twelve
juries were selected. Three of these cases settled before a verdict
was reached, five resulted in defense verdicts, and four resulted
in plaintiff’s verdicts.
Forty-two jury trials are scheduled April 2021, fourteen of
which are major jury trials. As April 7, 2021, sixteen of these
cases settled. As of April 13, 2021, eighteen juries have been
selected. Three of these cases resulted in a defense verdict, two
in a plaintiff’s verdict, and one is ongoing. Fifty-four jury
trials are scheduled for May 2021, eighteen of which are major
jury, and seven of which are medical malpractice trials. If the
parties request a continuance, the case is placed in pre-trial
With respect to priority for scheduling, past dates for
pre-trial conferences are being used to determine priority. The
first priority of cases being scheduled for trial are the 363 cases
that had actual trial dates in 2020 as either a trial pool month or
trial date certain, and all of these cases have been scheduled for
trial in 2021. 149 of these cases are complex track cases,
including 72 medical malpractice cases, and one five-week products
liability trial scheduled for July 2021. 64 of these cases are
standard and expedited track cases that were listed as pool cases
in 2020, and 150 are arbitration appeals.
The next priority of cases are the 782 cases that had pre-trial
conferences scheduled or were projected to be scheduled in 2020.
122 out of these 782 cases have been scheduled for trial in 2021.
Of the 782 cases, 153 are complex track cases that were original
scheduled for trial from April to December 2020. These cases are on
hold to see whether other complex cases settle before their trial
dates. Mandatory half-day settlement conferences with the trial
judge are being held in all of these cases. 241 out of the 782
cases are standard track cases originally scheduled for trial from
April to December 2020. 122 of these cases were scheduled for trial
in 2021 during pre-trial conferences held in March 2021. The Court
expects to schedule an additional 60 of these cases for trial in
2021. Finally, 388 out of the 782 cases are expedited track cases
originally scheduled for trial from April to December 2020. The
Court expects to schedule 50% of these cases for trial in 2021.
To ensure the safety of attorneys, parties, witnesses, judges,
court staff, and jurors, several safety protocols have been
put into place. First, face masks are mandatory inside City Hall.
This includes when a witness is testifying and when attorneys are
questioning the witness. This also applies to all trial
participants, including the trial judge, and this applies even to
those who are vaccinated. Non-essential persons involved in a case
should watch the case via a YouTube livestream, which members of
the public may also use to watch trials.
In addition to wearing face masks, social distancing is required
when in City Hall. The jury box is now located where the gallery
once was, and witnesses are seated at the end of the jury box,
closest to the jury. Counsel table refers to two chairs, with one
at each end of the table, spaced six feet apart. Most courtrooms
have four counsel tables and two have eight counsel tables.
Further, courtroom capacity is agreed upon at pre-trial conferences
and is strictly enforced during trial. The Court has also
implemented enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols and has
added hand sanitizer stations. Additionally, all trial participants
are asked COVID-19 screening questions every day.
As cases continue to be tried in 2021, cases also continue to
settle, and the number of cases being settled has almost returned
to pre-pandemic levels. Comparing settlements of major jury cases
from 4/1/2019 to 3/1/2020 to settlements of major jury cases from
4/1/2020 to 3/1/2021, prior to the pandemic, major jury cases
settled at an average of 397 per month. During the pandemic, major
jury cases settled at an average of 237 per month. This number
increased in January and February 2021, with an average of 327
major jury cases settling. In March 2021, 375 major jury cases
settled, which is nearly on par with pre-pandemic averages.
Moving forward, the Court’s number one priority is to
tighten up case management protocols, with the goal of preventing
further backlog. Specifically, virtual discovery court results in
discovery motions being decided within three weeks of the filing
date instead of months after the filing date, which was the result
of the motions being decided solely on the papers during the
pandemic. In addition, case management orders are being timely
issued for all cases filed as of January 1, 2021. Notably, motions
for extraordinary relief will be denied unless there extraordinary
reasons to grant them. Further, while observers, including
insurance industry personnel, are not currently allowed in the
courtroom, they can watch the proceedings live via the Court’s
YouTube livestream. The Court continues to monitor the COVID-19
pandemic to ensure it can safely conduct jury trials and is hopeful
that it will continue to be able to do so as the year goes on.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.