The Importance of Fair Jury Instructions in Virginia Personal Injury Cases

An attorney’s job does not stop at presenting his client’s case to the jury. In fact, perhaps one of the most important aspects of an advocate’s role in a Virginia personal injury case is creating the landscape in which his client’s case is viewed by the jury. This landscape is formed in a number of ways, from pre-trial motions determining which evidence is admissible to the instructions that the judge provides to the jury before sending it back to deliberate.

What Are Jury Instructions?

In a Virginia personal injury case, after all of the evidence has been presented by both sides, the judge will provide the jury with a set of instructions, summing up the relevant law that is applicable to the case. These instructions not only guide the jury in the decisions that it must make but can also clarify confusing legal issues or terms. Thus, it is very important that fair jury instructions are provided to a jury before it is sent off to make its determination. A recent case illustrates how important fair jury instructions can be.

Long v. Arnold

Long was involved in a minor car accident when the defendant pulled out in front of her, requiring she steer her car off the side of the road. Long was only traveling at about 10 miles per hour at the time, and when her car left the roadway, it slowly came to a complete stop as it came into contact with some roadside brush.

Several days after the accident, Long discovered she suffered a back injury as a result of the accident and filed a personal injury claim against the other driver. The defendant did not contest that he was negligent but argued that his negligence was not the cause of Long’s injuries. The case went to trial, and before the jury was asked to deliberate, the judge provided the jury with the following instructions regarding the issue of causation:  “Negligence is a substantial factor in causing harm if … the negligence was important enough in causing the harm that a reasonable person would hold the negligent person responsible. The negligence cannot be a remote or trivial factor.”

The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant. Long appealed, arguing that the instructions imposed too high a burden on her. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the language requiring that the negligence “cannot be a remote or trivial factor” in causing her injuries was unsupported by case-law and resulted in an increased and unfair burden. However, the appellate court disagreed, finding that the instructions sufficiently explained the state’s law of causation.

The court explained that the state follows the “substantial factor” test when it comes to determining causation, and clarifying that a defendant’s negligence must be more than a trivial factor is consistent with this approach. As a result of the court’s decision, the jury’s verdict will stand, and Long will not receive compensation for her injuries.

Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been involved in a Virginia car accident that you believe was caused by another party’s negligence, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. The importance of having a skilled and dedicated advocate on your side cannot be overestimated. From beginning to end, a dedicated personal injury attorney can ensure that your case is viewed fairly by the judge and jury, increasing your chances of receiving the compensation you deserve. To discuss your case with a dedicated personal injury attorney at the Virginia law firm of The Schupak Law Firm, call 703-491-7070 to set up a free consultation.

See More Blog Posts:

Plaintiff’s Bad-Faith Insurance Claim Allowed to Proceed after Dismissal Is Reversed on Appeal, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, December 7, 2016.

Summary Judgment in Virginia Personal Injury Cases, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, January 3, 2017.

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