Why You Should Care About Jury Instructions
A personal injury attorney can work tirelessly on your case, getting it ready for trial. Your attorney can have witnesses lined up, evidence prepared, and be ready to cross examine the Defendant’s witnesses. But many attorneys fail to prepare for one of the most important, but overlooked, part of a personal injury trial: jury instructions.
What are Jury Instructions?
In any jury trial, the jury’s job is to resolve disputes of fact. A jury may decide whether liquid on the floor creates a dangerous condition, whether a defendant charged with stealing had the intent to steal, or whether one business partner cheated the other in a business law case.
However, a jury does not make up the law. Rather, the jury must apply the facts to the law, to determine the outcome of the case. The law is given to the jury by the court (the judge) in the form of jury instructions.
Some of these instructions are pre-written, or standardized. For example, in a case involving someone who was injured who also had injuries that pre-existed the accident, the jury may be read instruction 501.5, which states that:
- A jury should try to determine what injuries were caused by the accident, and which existed before the accident
- If the jury can make that determination, the victim should only be awarded damages for injuries caused by the accident
- If the jury cannot make that determination, the victim should be awarded damages for all of his or her injuries.
Often, the jury instructions are printed and sent with the jury inside the jury room. The jury will read the instructions and apply the facts of the case to the instructions.
When Instructions Must be Drafted
Sometimes, jury instructions are not pre-written, and thus the lawyers in the case must come up with their own jury instructions. The lawyers will often write proposed instructions in a way that is most favorable to their clients. Even the most subtle wording can alter a jury’s perceptions and alter the verdict. The Court will ultimately decide which party’s instructions are used.
It is important that attorneys anticipate when there are pre-written instructions, and when the court will be asking the attorneys to propose their own instructions. Mistakes can cause serious problems in injury cases.
For example, assume there is a case of simple negligence. Instructions for negligence are pre-written and generally standardized, but pretend for a moment that they were not. If negligence were defined (and read to the jury) as requiring a victim demonstrate that the Defendant had “wanton and willful disregard for safety,” it would be hard for a victim to win a negligence case.
Thankfully, the actual instruction for negligence is more lenient, as the legal definition of negligence does not require a finding of willful disregard. However, in cases where there is not a pre-set definition, attorneys should take the time needed to draft jury instructions that are beneficial to their clients.
The Tampa personal injury attorneys at Barbas, Nuñez, Sanders, Butler & Hovsepian can help you after any kind of accident, whether you want to settle your case, or take it all the way to trial. Call us today to discuss obtaining damages for your injuries. Schedule a consultation today.