I have had the privilege of being a trial attorney for nearly 18 years. I have lost count of how many jury trials I have conducted as the lead attorney. While every case is different, as is every jury trial, there are some things that are consistent from one trial to the next. One such consistency is the fact that the jury is going to have questions. At the end of a trial, after the attorneys have presented their cases and after the closing arguments are complete, the judge instructs the jury on the applicable laws through which all of the evidence is to be evaluated. Once the judge has finished giving these instructions, the jurors all stand, gather their notes, and proceed to the deliberations room where they will determine which side shall prevail. While the parties to the lawsuit and their respective attorneys anxiously await the verdict, juror deliberations often lead to questions; questions the jurors want answered before rendering a verdict. These questions are written down by the foreperson and submitted to the judge. Here are some of the more common questions we see and why you are not allowed to know the answer.
- Does the defendant have car insurance?
This is usually the first question a jury asks. When trying to decide whether or not to blame an accident and/or injury on the defendant, jurors often want to know if the at-fault driver has car insurance that will pay for the verdict. I can only imagine the disappointment jurors feel when the judge instructs them “you are not to consider whether or not the defendant has insurance when evaluating the evidence in this case.” The reason for this makes sense. Georgia law recognizes that many jurors would be more likely to find against an at-fault driver if an insurance company is picking up the tab. When someone is hurt, jurors want to cover the injured person’s medical expenses and pain and suffering, but they don’t necessarily want to bring financial ruin to the at-fault driver. Knowing that the defendant has insurance makes this choice easier for a juror. Now the juror can rest assured that he/she is helping the injured party while not ruining the Defendant financially. Since the law is interested in nothing more than a fair determination of right and wrong, jurors are not allowed to know whether or not an insurance company will be paying for the verdict. From a practical standpoint, if the Defendant is represented by an attorney at trial, odds are that the defendant is covered by insurance. Not only does your car insurance company pay for the verdict entered against you, but your car insurance company also provides you with an attorney to defend your case…at no cost to you.
- Does the Plaintiff have health insurance?
During the presentation of evidence, jurors often learn that the Plaintiff (the injured party) has incurred medical expenses while treating the injuries suffered in the wreck. When deciding whether or not to hold the defendant responsible for those bills, jurors often want to know if the Plaintiff’s bills have been paid by health insurance. Maybe the jurors want to know this because they don’t want to burden the defendant any more than necessary to cover the Plaintiff’s bills. Perhaps the jurors are concerned about making sure the health insurance company is paid back. Either way, the judge is going to answer the jury with another “no.” Jurors are not allowed to know whether or not a Plaintiff has health insurance. There are a lot of reasons for this rule that we will not go into in this article. Many of these reasons could be the topic of separate articles. Suffice it to say that a Defendant’s legal liability is not dependent on whether or not the Plaintiff has the assistance of a health insurance policy to pay the medical bills. As such, the judge is not going to let you know if the Plaintiff has health insurance.
- Did the Defendant receive a ticket from the police officer?
The jurors are the most important people in the courtroom. Not the judge. Not the attorneys. Not the parties to the lawsuit. The job of a juror is to determine what happened. Did the Defendant run through a stop sign? That is for the jurors to decide. Did the car wreck cause the Plaintiff to need surgery? That is for the jurors to decide. The entire trial is a process by which each side attempts to convince the jury to answer these questions, among other questions, in their favor. Jurors often want to know whether or not the Defendant received a citation from the police officer who responded to the scene of the wreck. This information could be helpful to many jurors when deciding whether or not the Defendant caused the wreck. It is for this very reason that the judge is not going to let you know whether or not the Defendant received a citation. When a jury asks the judge if the Defendant received a citation, the judge is going to answer “you are not to consider whether or not the police officer issued a citation to the Defendant. It is up to you, the jury, to decide whether or not the Defendant was negligent as alleged by the Plaintiff.” Since it is the jury’s responsibility to determine what happened, the law does not allow the jury to be unduly influenced by the police officer’s assessment of what happened. That is why the jurors do not get to know if a citation was issued.