A Jury Can Make a Difference
An often overlooked section of the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act is the right to a jury trial. Factual and legal issues for workers’ compensation cases are typically resolved by a judge following a bench trial. When asserting a defense of willful misconduct however, the Act allows for the employer to demand a jury trial. If an employer does not demand jury trial; a plaintiff may do so by filling demand within five days after the appearance of the employer. The jury makes a determination only on as to willful misconduct; with the judge adjudicating the rest of the trial issues. Such a determination is "subject to the usual powers of the court over verdicts rendered contrary to the evidence or the law." In other words the judge can replace the jury’s findings if they are wholly unjustified by the law or facts.
My Two Cents:
It is the duty of a trial judge to liberally construe the Act and resolve all reasonable doubts in favor of the employee. A jury, on the other hand, may be less likely to lean towards the employee’s side. As such, making a jury demand may be a way to help level the playing field.