What Jurors Need to Understand About Jury Trials

What Jurors Need to Understand About Jury TrialsAt Philbrook Law Office, our personal injury lawyers work aggressively to settle your car accident, premises liability, or any other type of accident claim. Many times, we are able to settle your case – often, for the insurance policy limits. There are times, though, when the insurance companies don’t make a fair offer. When insurance companies deny liability or try to minimize your damages, then trying your case in front of a jury is the best option.

Our accident lawyers are seasoned trial lawyers. We prepare all the evidence to present the strongest case possible. Our preparation and our ability to persuasively argue your case have one goal – to convince the jury to find the defendants liable and award the maximum amount of compensation your truly deserve. We understand the jury process, which includes the selection of the jurors (called voir dire), opening arguments, presenting your testimony, cross-examination of the defendant’s witnesses, and closing arguments.

Much of the success of your claim depends on understanding what jurors are thinking and what facts they should find persuasive. The judge assigned to your case monitors the jury selection process and the presentation of the case. When all parties are done arguing their client’s positions, the judge instructs their jury on the dos and don’ts of the jury deliberation process.

Both the U.S. Constitution and the state of Washington guarantee that accident victims have the right to a jury trial. The Washington State Courts provide a discussion of how jury duty works through a series of questions and answers:

How are jurors chosen for jury duty?

Jurors are selected at random from voter registration records, driver’s license records, and other records. Jurors must be 18 years old or older, a U.S. citizen, and residents of the county where your case is being heard. Jurors must be able to communicate in English. They can’t have a felony conviction unless their civil rights have been restored. Generally, jurors can only ask to be excluded from jury duty if they have an illness that would affect their ability to serve, if being a juror would be an unusual hardship, or there are other legitimate reasons. Jurors may ask to reschedule if they are caring for a child or an adult.

Employers are required to allow employees to serve as jurors. Jurors are generally paid between $10 and $25 for their service. They can also request a mileage reimbursement.

The length of jury service varies from county to county.

How should jurors dress and what can they bring to the courtroom?

Jurors usually dress comfortably. There’s no requirement that a juror wear a suit, tie, or dress. On the other hand, shorts, beachwear, and tank tops are generally discouraged. Our lawyers do look at the jurors. The clothes they wear may give an indication of whether they are likely to be sympathetic to your injuries or not.

Jurors should consider bringing something to read. Each county is different. Some may allow a laptop computer, although cellphones are generally discouraged. Jurors will need to pass through a security checkpoint.

In rare cases, when a juror is sequestered, the jurors can return home at the end of the day.

Most personal injury cases take a few days to resolve, but every case is unique.

What happens during the jury selection process?

When a case is ready for trial, the judge will explain what the case is about to the jury. The lawyers will then question the jurors, under oath, about certain background information for each juror. The questions are an attempt to find out if a juror has any biases and if they can be impartial. The questions generally ask about the type of work the juror does, the jurors’ marital status, whether the jurors know any of the participants, and whether they know anything about the case.

There is an art to selecting a juror, depending on the type of injury case. For example, if we are filing a head trauma case against a truck driver, then we likely do not want anyone who works in the trucking industry to serve on the jury.

Lawyers have the right to exclude some jurors for any reason (the color of their shirt for example). Once these peremptory challenges are used up, then a juror can only for good causes (such as a clear bias).

What do jurors do?

During the trial, the jurors listen. The judge may tell them not to consider some evidence – but mostly, jurors listen to the testimony of the witnesses and consider the people involved. They may be asked to examine certain records, such as photos of your injuries taken immediately after the accident. Generally, jurors can take notes during the trial. However, they cannot ask questions of anyone involved in your case.

How do jury instructions work?

When everyone has presented their case and made closing arguments, the judge will instruct the jury about the criteria to consider. These instructions are generally based on suggestions from the lawyers and the judge’s own suggestions.

The jury instructions will usually explain the law. For example, in a personal injury case, the instructions will explain that:

  • The jurors are the sole deciders of how credible the witnesses are – and what factors (such as the accuracy of the witness’ memory) they should consider to determine credibility.
  • What weight to give to expert testimony such as a product safety engineer or a physician.
  • What the phrase “burden of proof” means.
  • The types of damages that can be awarded once the jurors decide the defendants are liable.
  • The standard of care of a driver, property owner, nursing home, or another defendant owed to the plaintiff.
  • What the phrase “proximate cause” means. Generally, defendants are liable for injuries proximately caused by their negligence.
  • How the violation of a statute, such as illegal speeding, affects the consideration of negligence.

During the trial, the judge will likely rule on many objections raised by the lawyers. For example, a plaintiff’s lawyer generally cannot introduce evidence that the defendant has insurance. Generally, lawyers cannot ask leading questions of their own witness. Neither side can introduce hearsay evidence. Defense lawyers cannot make accusations they know to be false.

At Philbrook Law Office, our Vancouver and Battle Ground personal injury lawyers understand when negotiations are unlikely to lead to a settlement. In all cases, however, you make the final decision whether or not to accept a settlement offer. We always prepare each case for trial. Often, you get the best result when jurors decide your right to compensation.

To discuss your rights in any type of accident case, call our lawyers in Vancouver or Battle Ground, WA at 360-695-3309 or complete our contact form to schedule an appointment.