The Jury’s Out: Doran v. Huls, 2021 ONSC 3291

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Written By: Lindsay Charles and Brandon Pedersen, Student-at-Law

The Jury's Out: Doran v. Huls, 2021 ONSC 3291| Mcleish Orlando

The defendant’s jury notice was struck in the recent Thunder Bay decision in Doran v. Huls, 2021 ONSC 3291.

Background

This action arose as a result of a motor vehicle collision that occurred in December 2013 in Thunder Bay. At the pre-trial conference in October 2019, the matter was placed on the civil jury sittings running list commencing January 2021 for a 10-12 day trial. Civil jury trials were suspended in March 2020 and continue to be suspended for the indefinite future.

Positions of the Parties

The plaintiffs submitted that it is unknown when civil jury trials will resume in Thunder Bay. The trial coordinator advised that no civil jury trials be scheduled in 2021. If the jury notice is not struck, it would be nine months (at the very earliest) before this matter is adjudicated. This delay will prejudice the plaintiffs in terms of the annually-increasing deductible under the Insurance Act, the continued erosion of the plaintiff’s loss of income claim, and the ongoing burden of the inability to pay for medical treatment.

The defendant argued that the potential prejudice caused by the delay does not outweigh the defendant’s right to a jury trial. The defendant argued that the increased efforts to vaccinate the population gives reason to be optimistic that the pandemic will be curbed by July 2021, and therefore this is an appropriate case to adopt the “wait and see” approach.

Analysis & Disposition

In reviewing the prevailing legal principles, the Court stated:

[12]      The right to have an action tried by a jury is a fundamental right that should not be interfered with without just cause or cogent reason. It is not absolute and must sometimes yield to practicality. The right is qualified as it is subject to the power of the court to determine that the action proceeds without a jury. (Louis v. Poitras, 2021 ONCA 49 at para. 17)

The onus is on a moving party to prove that the Jury Notice ought to be struck and the court must decide whether the moving party has shown that justice to the parties will be better served by the discharge of the jury. The courts must balance competing interests to determine whether in the interests of justice a jury notice ought to be struck or whether it is more appropriate to take a “wait and see” approach. (Cowles v. Balac, (2006) 2006 CanLii 34916 (ONCA), at para. 37)

In weighing the right to a jury trial and yielding to practicality, the Court found that the most compelling piece of evidence was the fact that the Regional Senior Justice for the Northwest Region has directed that no civil jury cases will be scheduled for 2021. The Court, therefore, found that there will be no civil jury trials in Thunder Bay in 2021, with no indication of when they would resume in the region. In ruling to strike the defendant’s jury notice, the Court stated:

[28]      Justice delayed is Justice denied. The delay in this matter to me is patently prejudicial if the jury notice is not struck.

[29]      As legitimate and workable as the “wait and see” approach may have been in the pre-COVID times, the defendant has provided no good reason why this matter must proceed with a jury other than “it is my right”.  In my view, the overarching right available to the plaintiffs and the defendant is one of a timely adjudication of their dispute by a neutral. One such neutral could be a jury panel of six fellow citizens of the parties. Another neutral could be a Superior Court judge. One is available in the foreseeable future and one is not.

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