Using the Language of Jury Instructions as a Persuasive Tool at Trial – Part 1
Positive Reinforcement: Persuasive Use of the Language of Jury Instructions from Jury Selection Through Summation – Part 1.
At its core, a personal injury or medical malpractice trial is a battle for the hearts and minds of eight strangers (the jury). In presenting a case, the personal injury lawyer must always employ the art of persuasion to convince the jury that his client’s case is deserving of compensation. The art of persuasion involves obvious tactics such as making a clear presentation of the facts of the plaintiff’s case; and also involves more subtle strategies such as using the language of the law throughout every phase of the trial to reinforce in the minds of the jury that, by law, the defendant is responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries.
At the end of every trial of a personal injury case, the jury will be asked by the judge to answer a series of questions known as “jury interrogatories”. The jury’s answers to these questions will determine the fate of each personal injury plaintiff’s claims. For example, in a slip and fall accident trial, the jury will often be asked to answer the following questions: (i) “Was the defendant negligent?”; (ii) “Was the defendant’s negligence a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s accident?”; and (iii) “What is the value of the plaintiff’s damages that he/she suffered because of the defendant’s negligence?”.
Though these questions may seem very simple, they are not presented to the jury in a vacuum. The trial judge overseeing a personal injury case will also read the law that applies to the case to the jury before presenting the jury with these questions. The language of the law provides the jury with the context and understanding of what the proper answer to each of these questions should be. So, in truth, the jury is not simply answering the jury interrogatories as they are written, but is deciding whether the plaintiff’s claims fit within the framework of the law read to them by the judge at the close of the case. The language of the law is provided in a series of documents known as “jury instructions”.
What Are Jury Instructions?
Jury instructions are summaries of the law applicable to a particular case that are written in plain English. Their main function is to translate, into plain language that layperson jurors can understand and apply, the “legalese” language of court decisions through which the law is established by judges and personal injury lawyers. Jury instructions allow the jury to make sense of the law that is applicable to each case so that they can answer the jury interrogatories and render a verdict (a decision) in a personal injury case.
For example, a jury deciding a slip-and-fall case wherein the plaintiff slipped and fell on water on the floor of a bathroom in a movie theater will be read the following jury instruction by the judge (this is only a small part of the entire jury instruction that will be read to the jury in a slip-and-fall accident case, but it gets the point across): “As you have heard, the plaintiff has sued the defendant, claiming that the defendant negligently maintained the bathroom floor of the movie theater. The operator of a movie theater has a duty to use reasonable care to keep the property of a movie theater in a reasonably safe condition. To recover, the plaintiff must prove: (1) that the property was not in a reasonably safe condition; (2) that the defendant was negligent in not keeping the property in a reasonably safe condition; and (3) that the unsafe condition was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injury. Your verdict will be rendered by the answers you give to a series of written questions, which will be given to you. You must first consider whether the property was not in a reasonably safe condition. The plaintiff claims that the defendant allowed water to accumulate on the bathroom floor within the movie theater, and that the plaintiff slipped and fell on the floor of the movie theater because there was water on the floor. The defendant claims that the water on the floor of the movie theater bathroom was not a dangerous condition, and that the defendant did not have prior notice of the water on the floor in the movie theater bathroom and is thus not negligent, and that the plaintiff is entirely responsible for the accident because the plaintiff was running to the bathroom when the accident occurred, and also because the water on the floor was open, obvious and not inherently dangerous and could have been easily avoided by the plaintiff.”
Read more about these important lessons in the second and final installment of this article, which will be posted shortly. If you are injured, our team of Bronx accident lawyers and medical malpractice lawyers will help you and your family obtain the compensation that you need and deserve. For a free consultation with one of our Bronx injury lawyers, call us today at (718) 354-8000. We will help you understand and protect your rights if we accept your Bronx accident lawsuit, and will stop at nothing to make sure that you are fully compensated if the negligence of another person causes you harm.