Don’t Forget Those Jury Instructions
In a personal injury trial, it is the jury that is charged with having to resolve disputed issues of fact. Fundamental questions like who did what, who said what, or how injured you are, all issues that may be disputed by the other side will ultimately be decided by the jury.
Applying the Facts
But it’s not enough for the jury to just determine whose version of the facts is right or wrong. A jury also must apply those facts to the law, to see who wins the case. But how does the jury do that, given that the jury is made up with laypeople, who may not know what precise legal standards to apply, or whether the evidence in fact proves or disproves issues in a case?
Using Jury Instructions
The answer is through the use of jury instructions, a part of a case that many attorneys unfortunately overlook. Jury instructions tell the jury what the law is, in plain language, so that they can apply the facts to the law, and make a decision. They tell the jury what the “elements” are that must be proven, for the victim to win the case, or what the Defendant must show, to prove its defenses.
The jury can then take their findings or decisions, and see if they “match” the instructions.
For example, a jury may believe, after hearing evidence, that a store left a dangerous substance on the floor for too long, and failed to clean it up. But is that negligence? Without knowing the law of negligence, a juror would never know.
So, a typical jury instruction may tell the jury that they should find for the Plaintiff (the victim) if the Defendant “acted in a way that ordinary reasonable and prudent people would not act.”
If a victim has a pre-existing injury, how does the jury know whether to award compensation to the victim or not?
There are jury instructions for this situation as well–jury instructions that specifically say that if the jury cannot separate a victim’s prior injuries with the ones sustained in the accident, that the jury must assume the entirety of the victim’s injuries are caused by the accident.
Wording and Creating Instructions
Jurors will read these instructions carefully, which means that both sides want them worded in a way that influences the jury to their side.
Sometimes, Florida law has pre-written jury instructions that can be used. But other times, the parties may want to make modifications to type instructions, or if the case is unique, the parties may have to come up with instructions from scratch.
The judge will look at both sides’ proposed instructions, and decide what language and wording the instructions should have, before being read or provided to the jury.
Are you ready for your personal injury trial? We can help you know what to expect. Contact Barbas, Nunez, Sanders, Butler & Hovsepian today. Schedule a consultation with our Tampa personal injury lawyers.