How an Attorney Picks a Jury for a Personal Injury Case
Your Attorney’s Role
The first set of questions your lawyer will ask may involve whether any of the potential jurors know you or the defendant, any of the witnesses in the case, the attorneys, or the judge, or if any of the jurors have heard anything about the case. This kind of knowledge probably excludes an individual from sitting on the jury, since they may have preconceived notions about the case. It is considered undesirable in our jury system for jurors to have such notions.
The attorneys inquire during voir dire into the background and attitudes of each potential juror. These questions are not intended to invade the individual’s privacy, although sometimes it may seem that way. The questions are asked so that the attorneys can attempt to assess how the individual will view the case. Your attorney wants people on the jury who are sympathetic to accident victims. The insurance company’s lawyer wants just the opposite.
For example, your lawyer may ask if there is anyone who has been sued for personal injuries, and, if so, if that experience created feelings of resentment against people who file personal injury lawsuits. Your lawyer will remove anyone who feels that way from the panel.
He or she may also ask if anyone on the panel works for an insurance company. This question serves a double purpose. First, people employed by insurance companies tend not to be especially sympathetic to accident victims. Second, your lawyer may simply be trying to communicate to the potential members of the jury that the defendant is insured. Juries tend to award more money if they feel that an insurance company will have to pay the award rather than an individual.
It is actually highly questionable whether this technique is proper, since the jury is not supposed to know of the existence of insurance. Nevertheless, many plaintiff’s lawyers employ this technique as a way of influencing the jury. Similarly, the insurance company’s lawyer phrases questions to the jury panel in such a way as to suggest that accident victims should not receive much in the way of compensation. Thus, voir dire is important not just because it determines who sits on the jury, but also because it presents the attorneys with their first opportunity to influence the jurors. This is a key opportunity.
Many other questions are asked during voir dire. This process may seem quite dull to the average juror. The lawyers, however, are extremely interested in the responses, since the makeup of the jury has a momentous effect on the handling of the case. Experienced trial lawyers give this process extremely close attention. In large cases, professionals who specialize in jury analysis may be brought in to prepare a profile of the ideal juror for that case. This helps the lawyer to select favorable jurors and to eliminate those who do not fit that profile.
Yet many lawyers will tell you that after studying all of the jury research into he type of juror who will favor his or her client’s cause, the lawyer picks the jurors his or her gut tells him or her should be on the jury. If the jury gives the lawyer a friendly, accepting look or a favorable nod of the head during voir dire, that lawyer will probably want this juror, even if jury research indicates that he or she will be an unfavorable juror.
The attorneys seek a promise from the jurors during voir dire that they will be fair. The lawyers repeatedly speak of wanting nothing more than a fair jury. This is happy-sounding nonsense meant only to convince the jury that the lawyer is a reasonable fellow. The reality is that each lawyer wants jurors who are sympathetic to their client’s cause and unsympathetic to the other side. A jury that is unfairly prejudiced against the other side is ideal.
The lawyer’s business is serving the client’s best interests, while always acting within the bounds and strictures of the ethical rules for lawyers. The American system of jurisprudence is adversarial in nature and lawyers are expected to practice in an adversarial manner. Theoretically, truth and justice emerge after a legal battle in which each attorney zealously presents the evidence in the light that is most favorable to that attorney’s client. It is a nice theory but hardly scientific in its accuracy.