If you have signed an agreement giving up the right to a jury trial in order to secure a contract, do you have grounds to change your mind? What if, once the work begins, you find the other party to be negligent or otherwise unsuitable as a contractual partner? You have signed a legal document, but you really want a jury of your peers to hear the evidence behind your claims. What now? A local employment attorney may be worth visiting.
Court of Appeal Issues Opinion
When PrincewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was retained by Grafton and Allied to audit accounting records, they asked Grafton and Allied to sign a contract agreeing to settle issues that might arise without the use of a jury trial. Thus, both parties would avoid fees and services associated with a jury trial in the “unlikely event that differences concerning PwC’s services or fees should arise.” Unfortunately, disparities did arise. Grafton and Allied sued. Furthermore, they were confident that if a jury heard the case, it would rule in their favor.
A number of serious claims against PwC were made in the suit:
- Conspiracy to breach fiduciary duty;
- Professional negligence;
- Breach of contract;
- Active concealment;
- Aiding and abetting.
Naturally, PwC demanded the charges be settled without the employment of a jury. After all, Grafton and Allied had signed a contract agreeing to as much. When Grafton and Allied insisted on a jury trial, PwC moved to strike their request. But the California Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Grafton and Allied. Here is why:
California Code of Civil Procedure
Section 631(a) of the California Code of Civil Procedure guarantees the right to a jury trial in civil cases. That right can be waived, but only under specific circumstances:
- When the party does not make an appearance at trial;
- When the party files written consent to waive a jury trial with the court;
- When consent is given orally in open court and the court minutes disclose such;
- When the party does not pay fees associated with the trial in a timely manner;
- When the party does not state that a jury will be necessary when the cause is initially set for trial;
- If amounts associated with jury fees (as outlined in subdivision (e)) are not paid on the second and succeeding days as required by the court.
The court found that when an agreement to forego a jury trial is signed prior to a court filing, it is mute. In other words, written consent is not binding unless a suit has been filed with the court. The right of a jury trial in California is legally inviolate; when in doubt, it is necessary to resolve the issue in favor of allowing a jury trial.
Your Legal Advocate
Are you questioning whether or not contractual agreements into which you have entered are binding? Let the employment team at HKM take a look. At HKM, our experienced attorneys will fight aggressively for clients who find themselves in contractual disputes. Contact us today in Los Angeles for a confidential consultation.