Phases of a Personal Injury Trial: The Jury Questions
In Texas, juries don’t just decide who they want to win and then award money. Instead, they’re given a series of questions that they answer. The judge then takes those answers, applies the law, and creates the ultimate award. To explain how this works, I’m going to show you the jury instructions in a simple car wreck case, and then talk about how those answers are used to come up with the award.
In this case, the driver who caused the wreck is Danny Driver and the victim is Violet Victim. We’ll also assume that there’s an argument from Danny Driver that Violet did something that helped cause the wreck.
Did the negligence, if any, of those named below proximately cause the occurrence in question?
“Negligence” means failure to use ordinary care, that is, failing to do that which a person of ordinary prudence would have done under the same or similar circumstances or doing that which a person of ordinary prudence would not have done under the same or similar circumstances.
“Ordinary care” means that degree of care that would be used by a person of ordinary prudence under the same or similar circumstances.
“Proximate cause” means that cause which, in a natural and continuous sequence, produces an event, and without which cause such event would not have occurred. In order to be a proximate cause, the act or omission complained of must be such that a person using ordinary care would have foreseen that the event, or some similar event, might reasonably result therefrom. There may be more than one proximate cause of an event.
Answer “yes” or “no” for each of the following:
If you answered “Yes” to Question 1 for more than one of those named below, then answer the following question. Otherwise, do not answer the following question.
Assign percentages of responsibility only to those you found caused or contributed to the cause of the occurrence. The percentages you find must total 100%. The percentages must be expressed in whole numbers. The percentage of responsibility attributable to any one is not necessarily measured by the number of acts or omissions found. The percentage attributable to any one need not be the same percentage attributed to that one in answering another question.
For each person you found caused or contributed to the occurrence, find the percentage of responsibility attributable to each:
Answer Question 3 if you answered “Yes” for Danny Driver to Question 1 and answered:
1. “No” for Violet Victim to Question 1, or
2. 50 percent or less for Violet Victim to Question 2.
Otherwise, do not answer Question 3.
What sum of money, if paid now in cash, would fairly and reasonably compensate Violet Victim for her injuries, if any, that resulted from the occurrence in question?
Consider the elements of damages listed below and none other. Consider each element separately. Do not award any sum of money on any element if you have otherwise, under some other element, awarded a sum of money for the same loss. That is, do not compensate twice for the same loss, if any. Do not include interest on any amount of damages you find.
Answer separately, in dollars and cents, for damages, if any. Do not reduce the amounts, if any, in your answers because of the negligence, if any, of Violet Victim.
a. Physical pain and mental anguish sustained in the past: $
b. Phyiscal pain and mental anguish that, in reasonable probabilty, Victim will sustain in the future: $
c. Loss of earning capacity sustained in the past: $
d. Loss of earning capacity that, in reasonable probability, Victim will sustain in the future: $
e. Disfigurement sustained in the past: $
f. Disfigurement that, in resaonable probability, Victim will sustain in the future: $
g. Physical impairment sustained in the past: $
h. Physical impairment that, in reasonable probability, Victim will sustain in the future: $
i. Medical care expenses incurred in the past: $
j. Medical care expenses that, in reasonable probability, Victim will incur in the future: $
So what do those questions mean? All of them are important.
The first question is essentially asking whether the parties did anything wrong. If the jury answers “No” for Danny Driver, then Violet Victim loses.
The third question is the question where the jury decides how much money is necessary to compensate Violet for her losses.
The second question answers how the amounts found in question 3 are awarded. If no percentage of responsibility is placed on Violet Victim, then she is awarded the full amounts found in question 3. But if she is found to have contributed to the occurrence then the amounts awarded in Question 3 are reduced by her percentage of responsibility. For example, if she is found 10% responsible, then the amount found in Question 3 is reduced by 10%. The trick is that if she is found more than 50% responsible, then she loses it all. Thus, if Violet if 51% responsible in this situation then she doesn’t recover anything.
In more complicated cases, there may be different and/or additional questions, but the concept is still the same. The jury answers the questions provided, and then the judge applies the law to those answers to come up the eventual judgment.