Jury Instructions in Personal Injury Litigation
JURY INSTRUCTIONS AND DELIBERATIONS
The judge’s instructions to the jury represent the very last stage of the trial before the jury retires to decide the case. In his or her instructions, the judge advises the jury about the law that applies to the case. The judge uses certain standard instructions but may also permit the lawyers to influence which instructions are given and how they are worded. A sample set of Jury Instructions is in Appendix A of my book. (see form 10, p.242.) Jury instructions are also sometimes called points for charge.
If, for example, the accident involves a slip-and-fall occurence, the judge advises the jury of the degree of care that the defendant was required to exercise for your safety. The judge defines such legal terms as negligence and circumstantial evidence. The judge advises the jury of your burden to prove the case by a preponderance of the evidence in order to receive a favorable verdict. The judge may explain that a preponderance of the evidence is a far easier burden of proof than beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard of proof required in criminal cases. Preponderance of the evidence requires that your evidence outweigh the defendant’s evidence by even the slightest amount. If it does, an award in your favor is appropriate.
The judge advises the jury of the various items of damages it can award. For example, the jury is instructed that, if it believes the defendant is liable to you for the accident, it must award a certain amount of money damages. That amount must fairly and adequately compensate you for the physical, emotional, and financial injuries caused by the accident. The judge advises the jury that past, present, and future pain and suffering should be considered. The judge may also advise the jury to include your medical bills in the award.
If one of the lawyers objects to any part of the jury instructions, the objection must be made before the jury retires to deliberate. That gives the judge the opportunity to correct the instructions, if necessary. If the objection is not made by then, the lawyer waives this objection and may not assert it on appeal. If the objection is made in a timely manner and the judge overrules the objection, the issue is preserved for the appellate court to rule on, if an appeal is filed. If the judge erred in failing to correct the instructions, the appellate court can order a new trial.