Jury instructions are a crucial aspect of a trial, including personal injury claims, as they provide guidance to jurors on how to apply the law to the specific facts of the case. These instructions help ensure that the jury reaches a fair and legally sound verdict. Here's how jury instructions can impact your case.
Consider this… A 65-year-old woman stops at a red light and is hit by a distracted driver. Now, she suffers daily neck pain that makes turning her head difficult.
Six people receive a jury summons in the mail. If they show up at the courthouse and are selected as jury members, how will they know how to examine and weigh what they see and hear at the trial?
How should the jurists respond if the woman says that she was stopped for a red light, but the defendant driver testifies that she stopped unexpectedly after the light turned green?
What if the defendant presents records showing that the woman had seen a chiropractor three months before the collision because of a sore neck? What do the jurors do if they find one witness more believable than the other?
For these facts’ patterns, and more, there are a set of pre-approved rules, or instructions, which are given by the judge to the jurors. These instructions provide the jurors with guidance and structure in considering the evidence presented at trial - such as testimony and medical records- to make the most-informed decision.
- Who was at fault for the incident?
- Was fault shared between the plaintiff and the defendant? If so, what percentages of fault to each makes sense?
- Are the defenses presented by the defendant supported by the evidence?
- Which witnesses were credible, and which were not?
- How much money in compensation should be awarded?
- What evidence does the plaintiff have to present to get money awarded?
o For civil trials, a plaintiff has the burden of proving her case by a “preponderance of the evidence” which means "more likely or more probable than not.” The burden of proof in criminal trials, where a defendant can lose his or her freedom, is much higher, e.g. beyond a reasonable doubt.
*Colorado Jury Instruction 3:1
- How to deal with evidence that the plaintiff had pre-existing health problems?
o In general, if evidence is presented that an earlier health problem was made worse, or aggravated, by the incident, and evidence allows the jury to separate the problems caused by the incident from the problems that existed before, then the jury will award damages caused by the incident.
o If, however, the evidence presented at trial does not allow the jury to separate the problems caused by the incident from the problems existing before, then the jury awards all damages to the plaintiff.
*Colorado Jury Instruction 6:8.
- What if a witness is not believable or credible?
o Jurors are the only judge of credibility in a courtroom. Jurors decide the weight to be given to all witnesses who testify. Most importantly, jurors can believe all, part, or none of a witness’s testimony.
*Colorado Jury Instruction 3:16.
If you are interested in reading approved Colorado Jury Instructions, they are available online. There are paid-only websites such as Westlaw or LexisNexis, that provide updated jury instructions with helpful legal information.
Check out some free Colorado Jury Instructions at the Colorado Judicial Branch, at https://www.courts.state.co.us/Courts/Supreme_Court/Committees/Committee.cfm?Committee_ID=18
(Confirm these are still available and up to date before you rely on them.)
You can spend hours, if that is your thing, looking into these important legal rules for jurors. Remember, our right to a jury trial is a necessary and important Constitutional right.
Do your part when receiving that jury summons in the mail. Someday, you may want impartial members of your community, your peers - your jury - to listen to and understand the facts of your case so that they may decide the verdict in a fair way.