On the desk of most competent personal injury lawyers is a book that sets forth the rules that judges give jurors when those jurors are tasked with deciding how a trial will turn out.
Consider this fact pattern:
A 65-year-old grandmother is driving her 1995 Oldsmobile sedan. She stops for a red light. She is rear-ended by a distracted driver. Now, she suffers with daily neck pain that makes turning her head really difficult.
For the 6 people who got a jury summons in the mail, showed up at the courthouse, and got selected to sit on this grandmother’s case, how are they to sift through and weigh what they hear and see at the trial? How are they to deal with grandma saying she was stopped for a red light, but then hear the defendant driver testify that grandma stopped unexpectedly after the light turned green? What if the defendant presents records showing that grandma 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 another witness?
Don’t worry. For all these facts patterns, and many more, there are a set of pre-approved rules, or instructions, that will be given by the judge to the jurors. These jury instructions provide regular people selected to be jurors' guidance and structure in considering the evidence presented at trial (such as testimony and medical records) and then making decisions.
Decisions that jurors are often asked to make based on the evidence presented include:
- 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?
Jury instructions help jurors with many issues they have to decide in a case, including:
For civil trials, a plaintiff has the burden of proving their 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)
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 awards damages caused by the incident.
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)
Jurors are the only judge of credibility in a courtroom. Jurors decide the weight to be given to any and all witnesses who testify. AND, 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 on the internet. There are paid-only websites or services, like Westlaw of Lexus Nexus, that provide updated jury instructions with a lot of helpful legal information to lawyers. We at Chris Parks Law have found free Colorado Jury Instructions at the Colorado Judicial Branch:
(Check to see if these are still available and updated before you rely on them.)
You can spend hours, if that's your thing, looking into these important legal rules of the road that give guidance to jurors selected to serve on Colorado juries. And remember, our right to a jury trial is a huge and important Constitutional right. Please do your part when receiving that jury summons in the mail. Someday, you may want impartial members of your community, your peers, to listen to the facts of your case and decide in a fair way.