As in all successful journeys, you must know your ultimate destination at the beginning of the trip. Handling a personal injury case on behalf of a client is a journey that the client and lawyer take together, sometimes taking 2 to 3 years to complete. To be successful on the client’s behalf, the experienced personal injury trial lawyer knows what they must prove to win before accepting the case.
That knowledge is based on the lawyer being intimately familiar with the jury instructions (and the cases and statutes upon which they are based) that will be given to the jury by the trial judge before it begins deliberating the case. In the typical personal injury case stemming from an automobile crash, the jury instructions include an explanation of what it means to be “negligent” or “contributorily negligent,” which party has “the burden of proof” on certain issues, the level of proof needed to prevail on a particular issue, i.e., “the greater weight of the evidence,” “proximate cause,” a driver’s duty of “ordinary care,” and the “damages” the injured person is entitled to recover.
At the initial consultation, to properly counsel the potential client, the experienced lawyer will determine whether the facts and information known to the potential client satisfy all of the elements needed to have a successful personal injury claim or case. Those elements are whether another party was negligent, whether that other party’s negligence was a cause of the crash, and whether the crash caused the potential client physical injuries. In Virginia, as contributory negligence is a complete defense to a personal injury claim, the lawyer must also consider the potential client’s actions and whether they contributed to the happening to the crash.
The analysis that the lawyer makes, guided necessarily by the jury instructions, is akin to building a house or putting together a puzzle. There are necessary parts or pieces that the lawyer and their team must assemble to have a case that is ultimately resolved in the client’s favor either by settlement or trial. Without a working knowledge of the jury instructions, the lawyer will not know, for certain, whether they have all the facts and information needed to prove the client’s case, nor will they know what information must be obtained, by way of investigation or expert opinion, required to prove the client’s case.
In addition, to ensure that the lawyer has the evidence necessary to prove their client’s case, a working knowledge of the jury instructions enables the lawyer to discuss them comfortably with the jury during the closing argument. “Negligence,” “contributory negligence,” the “the burden of proof” are all terms that are foreign to most non-lawyers. Hearing them read by a judge one time may not be enough for the jurors to fully understand or appreciate what they mean. A lawyer who has worked with the instructions and truly understands and appreciates them is in a good position to help the jury understand them and the issues they must decide. When the jury looks at that particular lawyer for guidance, their client tends to prevail!
"$213,000.00 Jury Verdict, Auto Accident, Hand injury"
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"$100,000.00, Auto Accident, Broken Leg"
"$493,000.00, Auto Accident, Brain injury, broken rib, facial lacerations"
"$190,000.00, Auto Accident, Brain injury"