After all the evidence has been presented, all witness testimony has been heard, and closing arguments have been made, the real work of the jury selected to serve on your personal injury trial can begin. Jury instruction, jury deliberation, and delivery of the jury’s verdict are each technically separate processes in the course of a trial, but they’re all integrated in delicate and important ways that will finally help to bring a personal injury trial to its conclusion.
When the time comes for the jury to begin discussing what they believe the outcome of the case they just heard should be, they need to be given instructions and reminders about how to go about carrying out that civic duty first. The judge presiding over the case will be the one to deliver these instructions directly to the jurors, with the intention being to keep them on track regarding basic legal procedures of deliberation, as well as reminders and clarifications about the laws on which their decision must be based. They will also be made aware of the consequences of breaking those rules and laws, such as the judge being forced to call a mistrial.
Ahead of these direct instructions, the lawyers from both sides will propose their own instructions to the judge about how they should in turn instruct the jury to make their decision. These “requests” will often use specific phrasing that is advantageous to their client and may consist of reiterating key concepts of the case, important findings that were selected, any relevant injury claims, and the damages they are allowed to consider.
This may sound similar to the way the closing arguments each team’s lawyers provided were carried out, but it’s distinctly different in that the judge has the final say on whether or not the jury is permitted to take into consideration the attorney-presented instructions they hear. When the judge has heard from both sides, they will then determine how they want to instruct the jury and will write those instructions clearly for them to have on hand as they deliberate.
After the jurors have received their instructions, the members of the jury will select a jury foreperson who will act as the jury’s “chair.” It’s the foreperson’s duty to see that discussions are carried out in an orderly fashion, that the issues submitted for consideration are fully and fairly discussed by the jurors, and that every juror has a chance to say what they think in relation to the case.
The jury will then be escorted from the courtroom to a private deliberation room of the courthouse where they can discuss the facts of the case and deliberate about how they each want to cast their votes. Until a verdict is announced, no outsider other than a court bailiff assigned to assist the jury with basic requests such as meal breaks or review of evidence or testimony will be allowed to know what is going on in the jury room.
There is no limit on how long a jury can take to deliberate a case. The judge will allow them to take as much or as little time as they need to make a decision, whether it’s a few hours, a few days, or in some cases, a few weeks. There are even instances in which the jury may not be able to reach a decision, though for personal injury case trials, which are civil cases, the verdict does not need to be unanimous for a decision to be made. Only three-fourths of the jury (9 out of 12 jurors) are required to be in agreement for a verdict to be entered.
Though every case is unique, over the last decade or so, there has been an upward trend in jurors deliberating over personal injury cases finding in favor of the plaintiff. There used to be a lingering stigma surrounding personal injury cases whereby jurors often felt that victims of personal injury were only filing lawsuits in an attempt to “get rich quick,” but that stigma has slowly changed. Jurors in personal injury cases have become more empathetic with the injury victims, and more skeptical of large corporations like insurance companies. This is thought to be due to an increase in the availability of knowledge to the average person through growing advents like social media, Podcasts, streaming services, an increase in true crime media, and widespread news of captivating cases.
Through these expanding informational channels, jurors—who are made up of average, everyday citizens within a community—have slowly become more exposed to the true tribulations that personal injury victims go through. In turn, it has meant that they are more likely to return a favorable verdict for the plaintiff, though of course that’s never a guarantee.
Delivery of the Verdict
The outcome of a personal injury trial is most heavily based on one crucial factor: fault. In other words, the entire point of a trial is to determine who is at fault for the harm caused so that it can then be determined how much to award the person seeking compensation for that harm. In Missouri, fault can be comparative, meaning it’s possible the jury may return a verdict stating that both the defendant and the plaintiff are to be held partially accountable for how the incident occurred. When this happens, it means the plaintiff will likely receive less than the full amount of compensatory damages.
If the jury is unable to reach the necessary requirements for a final verdict to be delivered and is convinced no such point can ever be reached amongst their group, the foreperson will let the judge know. When this happens, the judge will decide whether or not to send them back into deliberation or dismiss the jury, which will result in a mistrial. In the case of a mistrial, the case may be tried again with a different jury.
But if the jury is able to reach a verdict as needed, the foreperson is responsible for collecting signatures from each juror on a verdict form. All jurors’ signatures on the form denote whether they are in agreement with the majority decision, or whether they are against it. When all signatures have been collected, the foreperson will then ask the bailiff to notify the judge that they are ready to deliver their verdict to the court. At that time, all relevant parties will be called back to the courtroom to be present for the delivery of the verdict.
Once the court is back in session, the judge will ask the foreperson to deliver their verdict out loud to the courtroom. The foreperson will stand and deliver the jury’s verdict, stating where they have determined fault has been found, and what the resulting damages awarded should be. This is a bit different from a verdict delivery in a criminal case, in which the jury only determines if the defendant is “guilty” or “not guilty” of the charges presented, and then the judge will determine the defendant’s sentencing. In a civil case of personal injury, the jury holds the power to decide both who is at fault, how at fault they are, and what the resulting damages awarded are as a result.
After Your Trial Ends
Even though the jury may have reached a verdict in your trial, that doesn’t necessarily mean everything is done and over with. The party that “lost” the trial—or didn’t receive the result they would have preferred—has the right to appeal the jury’s decision if they so choose. However, their request to file an appeal must have some kind of legal basis behind it, such as an alleged error in the trial or deliberation process. They can’t appeal simply because they don’t like the outcome.
In a civil case, either party may choose to appeal to a higher court of law, whereas in a criminal case, only the defendant has the right to appeal. So if you as the plaintiff are found partially at-fault for the incident that led to injury, and your lawyer believes there’s legal basis for this decision not to have been made, they may advise that you appeal. In that case, processes will start over again in a higher court.
If no such appeal is filed by either party, then the trial is officially complete. The damages awarded to the plaintiff will likely be received as a monetary sum. Your legal team will then disperse your earnings to you, only keeping their agreed-upon contingency fees for their services based upon the contract you previously signed with them. From there, you can use those awarded damages to continue healing and recovering from this long and difficult ordeal you’ve been through.
Posted Under: Litigation/Trial