How Jury Instructions Impact the Outcome of a Georgia Personal Injury Lawsuit


February 05, 2013

If you watch Law and Order or crime dramas at the movies, you know that a judge instructs a jury before it deliberates in a civil or criminal trial. These depictions of jury instructions in these mediums can be extremely misleading.

They suggest that a jury instruction is a simple sentence or two communicated in plain language. The reality is that jury instructions may reach to several pages in length and may include unfamiliar legal terminology and language. Many people believe that there is a fixed standard formulation for jury instructions. This is only partially correct because the exact formulation of jury instructions is an intensely contested issue in most civil trials. Slight changes and adjustments in the way jury instructions are formulated can have a substantial impact on the outcome of a Georgia civil lawsuit seeking compensation for personal injuries.

A recent Georgia appellate court decision provides a solid illustration of how subtle wording in a jury instruction can have a dramatic impact on the outcome of a court case. Although Wagner v. State (Ga. App., 2011) is a criminal case, it provides an effective illustration of the power of a jury instruction. The defendant in a drunken driving case refused to submit to a breath test when pulled over by a police officer. The judge in the trial court instructed the jury that the jury could infer from the driver’s refusal to take a State-administered breath test, that the test would have shown the presence of alcohol "which impaired his driving." This formulation of the jury instructions was based on the fact that Georgia’s implied consent law permits use at trial of a driver’s refusal to take a chemical test of breath, blood, or urine for purposes of determining their BAC.

The key for the court was that a refusal to take a chemical test may be viewed as consciousness of guilt, but the judge’s instruction essentially determined the ultimate question to be decided by the jury, specifically that the driver had consumed enough alcohol that his driving was impaired. The appellate court rejected the trial court’s instruction because it effectively shifted the burden of proof to the defendant to establish that his driving was not impaired by alcohol. Though this case involved a criminal prosecution for DUI, DUI – Less Safe and DUI – Child Endangerment, the case illustrates the importance of the precise wording of jury instructions. Even slight deviations can result in drastic changes in outcome in a jury trial.

Our Georgia personal injury attorneys spend substantial time researching and crafting the jury instructions that we want the judge to use when instructing the jury. Our experienced Georgia personal injury lawyers know that a well-crafted jury instruction can help our client obtain a more favorable outcome. If you or someone you love has suffered personal injury or wrongful death in an Atlanta car accident, slip and fall accident, incident involving medical malpractice, dangerous or defective products or other negligent conduct, the experienced team of attorneys at Montlick and Associates are committed to providing effective legal representation throughout our clients’ cases, and to getting you the compensation you deserve.

Our Georgia personal injury lawyers are available to assist clients throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Personal Injury

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.