When a case goes to trial, it is often the case that some of the most important events happen behind closed doors, away from the jury and even away from the client.
Before a trial begins, attorneys from each side get together with the Judge and set down some "ground rules" for the trial, including what are known as jury instructions and "motions in limine" (more on the complicated topic of "motions in limine" later).
Jury instructions are how the judge instructs the jury regarding how they are to come to their verdict amongst other items, and they are the last thing a jury hears before they deliberate after the closing arguments by the attorneys - as such, their importance cannot be understated. When people think of jury instructions, what often comes to mind is often rather basic reminders that they are to decide what they think happened in the case, what the elements of the case are, what forms to fill out, things of this nature.
But few realize that carefully presented jury verdicts can take a "good" case and transform it into an unqualified success.
Let's say you were the victim in a car accident. Let's say you were stopped at a red light, and for no reason, a car behind you crashes into you, causing damage to your vehicle and, unfortunately, injuring you in the process. In cases like this, defense attorneys sometimes admit that their client was "negligent," basically admitting that the accident was their fault, and instead spend their time trying to argue that your damages (medical bills) should be lower than what you claim because you "over treated" with doctors or that you treated for issues not related or caused by the accident. This can happen for any number of reasons, but it is generally welcome news to a plaintiff's attorney. But what does this admission really mean? Maybe they don't present certain witnesses, maybe they even admit their negligence in court, but a good defense attorney is going to try to downplay this impact.
So how can a good plaintiff's attorney take advantage of this? One effective way is to use the jury instructions to their advantage. If given a proper jury instruction, a judge will instruct a jury that the Defendant has admitted fault. Here is an example of such an instruction:
The defendant has admitted that he was negligent.
The plaintiff claims that she was injured and sustained damage as a result of that negligence.
The plaintiff further claims that defendant’s negligence was a proximate cause of his/her injuries.
This will be one of the last things the jury hears before it goes to deliberate, and while they are deliberating, these words, along with all the other jury instructions, will be sitting right in front of them, serving as a constant reminder of who was at fault.
Sometimes, a subtle tactic like this can mean the difference between going home empty-handed, or simply breaking even, and truly compensating a Plaintiff for his/her injuries in an amount that is fair and reasonable.
If you are in an automobile accident, get all the information possible immediately and take notes. Then contact an attorney immediately. You can contact us here 24/7/365 (and we really mean that as we will answer our phone) if you have any questions and to learn how we may be able to help you.