Absolutely. In fact, a Connecticut statute says: “In civil actions, a jury shall be deemed waived unless requested by either party in accordance with the provisions of section 52-215.” Another Connecticut statute has clear instructions for when and how a party preserves their right to a jury trial. As a reminder, Connecticut courts have jury cases and court cases. Connecticut refers to court cases as courtside or bench trials. A courtside trial or bench trial means a single judge hears the evidence and makes a decision. Six jurors hear civil jury trials, with 2 alternates in case a “regular” juror cannot finish the case.
How Do I Get a Jury Trial in Connecticut State Court?
Easy, follow the rules. Any party that has a right to a jury trial simply files a jury claim within 30 days after the return day or within 10 days of issue being joined. “Issue being joined” means the pleadings are closed. In the state court litigation class, I teach at Quinnipiac Law School, I tell students to imagine a tennis match. “Issue being joined” is when the last ball is hit over the net. It’s when both parties to the lawsuit have said the last word in their pleadings: Some examples are: Scenario #1: complaint + answer = pleadings closed/issues joined. Scenario #2: complaint + answer with special defenses + reply to special defenses = pleadings closed/issues joined. Scenario #3: complaint + answer with a counterclaim but no answer to the counterclaim = pleadings NOT closed/issues NOT joined).
The 10-day period to claim a jury trial runs from the filing of that final pleading. Some Connecticut lawyers incorrectly think the 10-day period runs from the filing of a certificate of closed pleadings. No. That certificate merely certifies that the event has already occurred – the pleadings have been closed/issue has been joined – which triggered the 10 days to claim a jury trial. The certificate of closed pleadings is not the triggering event. The triggering event was the filing of the last pleading.
If you wait until a party files a certificate of closed pleadings to file your jury claim, you may have waived it!!
When Does Waiver Happen?
Waiver happens when you wait too long after the statutory deadline to file your jury claim. Let’s assume the parties joined the issue and the pleadings were closed on October 6, 2023 (a Friday), when the defendant filed its answer without any special defenses. You must file your jury claim ten days later on Monday, October 16, 2023. But say your lawyer forgot and doesn’t file a jury claim for two, maybe three weeks later. Most Connecticut judges will not find a waiver under those facts.
Now, four weeks late is a closer call and some judges will find that you waived your right to a jury. One and a half months or more will likely result in a judge finding that you waived your right to a jury trial.
Should I Still File a Jury Claim If I Have Missed the Deadline?
Yes, still file the late jury claim. The other side might not move to strike it. And if they do move to strike your jury claim, you might win the waiver argument. Even if you lose, at least you have preserved the issue for appeal.
What Type of Connecticut Cases Include a Jury Trial
Most civil cases include a right to a jury. Negligence, contract, business tort cases, and some statutory claims include a right to a jury trial. Just because you have the right doesn’t mean you always want one. But it is always better to preserve it by filing a timely claim because you can always waive it later.
If it’s not clear you have a jury trial right, the parties litigate the issue when a party moves to strike the jury claim, arguing there is no right to a jury trial for that particular case. A statute says you have the right to a jury if your case is one that prior to January 1, 1880, included the right to a jury trial. Winning arguments here draw clear parallels between the present-day claim, and one that carried a jury trial right pre-1880.
A Sample Argument for a Jury Trial Right
Here is an example. Connecticut employees can sue their employer for failure to pay accrued fringe benefits such as vacation pay on termination of employment, when an employer policy or collective bargaining agreement provides for those benefits. The statute that created that right did not exist in 1880, so to get a jury, you have to argue that the statute creates a contract-like claim to benefits and since you have a jury trial right for contract cases, you have one for that statute as well.
There are claims based on Connecticut statutes that specifically include the right to a jury trial, like unfair trade practice claims. But if you sue someone to force them to sell you their house because you had a contract to buy it, that is an equitable claim which does not include a jury trial right.
The lesson is to hire a Connecticut lawyer who knows the Connecticut practice book!