Missouri Approved Jury Instructions or What the Injured Party Must Prove to Win at Trial

Missouri Approved Jury Instructions or What the Injured Party Must Prove to Win at Trial

By: Mark A. Cantor

If you are injured in an accident you should hire an attorney to fight and recover money for you. The decision of whether you win or lose, and if you win how much money you win, both are decided by a jury.

But how do you know what to prove at trial?

The answer is that Missouri has what are called Missouri Approved Jury Instructions. These instructions will tell you what needs to be proven in order to win money. This article will set out the general overview of the Missouri Supreme Court Jury Instructions and provide a recent example.

The Missouri Approved Jury Instructions summarize the law in a manner that is concise and is easy to understand by the average juror. The jury instructions are intended to inform the jury of the law and what their decisions must be based on. The instructions are given to the jury by the Court, and so that the ultimate issues in the case may be decided by the trier of fact, which is the jury. Justice Cardozo, once wrote that "too much detail obscures rather than clarifies," and instructions are intended to boil the facts down and force the jury to make a decision based on the law of Missouri. The current addition of the Missouri Approved Instructions is over 800 pages long, so this is going to be a very brief summary. If you have specific questions about what needs to be proved at trial, or if you have a serious personal injury that requires an attorney and law firm capable of trying that case on your behalf, please call Mark Cantor at (314) 542-9999.

The jury instructions are the law of the case. The process of deciding the case is called jury deliberations. They are done in secret and no one knows the outcome of the trial until the floor person, who acts as the chair of the jury process, reports the verdict to the Court.

In a Missouri civil jury trial, unlike a criminal trial where the verdict must be a unanimous one meaning that all 12 jurors must vote guilty or not guilty, in a civil case only 9 out of 12 jurors must agree with the verdict.

For the remainder of this article I am going to rely upon a case that I recently tried in Jefferson County Missouri and resulted in a unanimous jury verdict in favor of the Plaintiff, the injured party whom I represented. In the case I tried my client is a seventeen year old woman and was a passenger in a car driven by a friend. The friend failed to stop at a stop sign and was struck by another car that did not have a stop sign or a requirement that they yield. As a result, my client was injured and there was a dispute of the value of the case. The defendant's insurance company simply did not want to pay much money after the collision because they did not think she was injured.

The first instruction by the Judge is read at the beginning of the trial and is as follows:

MAI 2.01

(1) GENERAL-JURY INSTRUCTIONS

This instruction and other instructions that I will read to you near the end of the trial are in writing. All of the written instructions will be handed to you for guidance in your deliberation when you retire to the jury room. They will direct you concerning the legal rights and duties of the parties and how the law applies to the facts that you will be called upon to decide.

(2) OPENING STATEMENTS

The trial may begin with opening statements by the lawyers as to what they expect the evidence to be. What is said in opening statements is not to be considered as proof of a fact. However, if a lawyer admits some fact on behalf of his client, the other party is relieved of the responsibility of proving that fact.

(3) EVIDENCE

After the opening statements, the plaintiff(s) will introduce evidence.1 The defendant(s) may then introduce evidence. There may be rebuttal evidence after that. The evidence may include the testimony of witnesses who appear personally in court, the testimony of witnesses who may not appear personally but whose testimony may be read or shown to you, and exhibits such as pictures, documents, and other objects.

(4) OBJECTIONS

There may be some questions asked or evidence offered by the parties to which objection may be made. If I overrule an objection, you may consider that evidence when you deliberate on the case. If I sustain an objection, then that matter and any matter I order to be stricken is excluded as evidence and must not be considered by you in your deliberations.

(5) RULINGS OF LAW AND BENCH CONFERENCES

While the trial is in progress, I may be called upon to determine questions of law and to decide whether certain matters may be considered by you under the law. No ruling or remark that I make at any time during the trial will be intended or should be considered by you to indicate my opinion as to the facts. There may be times when the lawyers come up to talk to me out of your hearing. This will be done in order to permit me to decide questions of law. These conversations will be out of your hearing to prevent issues of law, which I must decide, from becoming mixed with issues of fact, which you must decide. We will not be trying to keep secrets from you.

(6) OPEN MINDS AND NO PRELIMINARY DISCUSSIONS

Justice requires that you keep an open mind about the case until the parties have had the opportunity to present their cases to you. You must not make up your mind about the case until all evidence, and the closing arguments of the parties, have been presented to you. You must not comment on or discuss with anyone, not even among yourselves, what you hear or learn in trial until the case is concluded and then only when all of you are present in the jury room for deliberation of the case under the final instructions I give to you.

(7) OUTSIDE INFLUENCES

During the trial, you should not remain in the presence of anyone who is discussing the case when the court is not in session. Otherwise, some outside influence or comment might influence a juror to make up his or her mind prematurely and be the cause of a possible injustice. For this reason, the lawyers and their clients are not permitted to talk with you until the trial is completed.

(8) PROHIBITION OF JUROR RESEARCH OR COMMUNICATION ABOUT THIS CASE

Your decision must be based on only the evidence presented to you in the proceedings in this courtroom. Rules of evidence and procedure have developed over many years to make sure that all parties in all cases are treated fairly and in the same way and to make sure that all jurors make a decision in this case based only on evidence allowed under those rules and which you hear or see in this courtroom. It would be unfair to the parties to have any juror influenced by information that has not been allowed into evidence in accordance with those rules of evidence and procedure or to have a juror influenced through the opinion of someone who has not been sworn in as a juror in this case and heard evidence properly presented here.

Therefore, you must not conduct your own research or investigation into any issues in this case. You must not visit the scene of any of the incidents described in this case. You must not conduct any independent research or obtain any information of any type by reference to any person, textbooks, dictionaries, magazines, the use of the Internet, or any other means about any issues in this case or any witnesses, parties, lawyers, medical or scientific terminology, or evidence that is in any way involved in this trial. You are not permitted to communicate, use a cell phone, record, photograph, video, e-mail, blog, tweet, text or post anything about this trial or your thoughts or opinions about any issue in this case to any other person or to the Internet, "facebook", "myspace", "twitter", or any other personal or public web site during the course of this trial or at any time before the formal acceptance of your verdict by me at the end of the case.

If you break any of these rules, it may result in a miscarriage of justice, and a new trial may be required.

(9) FINAL INSTRUCTIONS

After all of the evidence has been presented, you will receive my final instructions. They will guide your deliberation of the issues of fact you are to decide in arriving at your verdict.

(10) CLOSING ARGUMENTS

After you have received my final instructions, the lawyers may make closing arguments. In closing arguments, the lawyers have the opportunity to direct your attention to the significance of the evidence and to suggest the conclusions that may be drawn from the evidence.

(11) DELIBERATIONS

You will then retire to the jury room for your deliberations. It will be your duty to select a foreperson, to decide the facts, and to arrive at a verdict. When you enter into your deliberations, you will be considering the testimony of witnesses as well as other evidence. In considering the weight and value of the testimony of any witness, you may take into consideration the appearance, attitude, and behavior of the witness, the interest of the witness in the outcome of the case, the relation of the witness to any of the parties, the inclination of the witness to speak truthfully or untruthfully, and the probability or improbability of the witness’ statements. You may give any evidence or the testimony of any witness such weight and value as you believe that evidence or testimony is entitled to receive.

After the jury trial the judge reads these instructions:

MAI 2.03

As you remember, the court gave you a general instruction before the presentation of any evidence in this case. The court will not repeat that instruction at this time. However, that instruction and the additional instructions, to be given to you now, constitute the law of this case and each such instruction is equally binding upon you. You should consider each instruction in light of and in harmony with the other instructions, and you should apply the instructions as a whole to the evidence. The order in which the instructions are given is no indication of their relative importance. All of the instructions are in writing and will be available to you in the jury room.

MAI 2.04

The verdict form included in these instructions contain directions for completion and will allow you to return the permissible verdict in this case. Nine or more of you must agree in order to return any verdict. A verdict must be signed by each juror who agrees to it.

MAI 3.01

In these instructions, you are told that your verdict depends on whether or not you believe certain propositions of fact submitted to you. The burden is upon the party who relies upon any such proposition to cause you to believe that such proposition is more likely to be true than not true. In determining whether or not you believe any proposition, you must consider only the evidence and the reasonable inferences derived from the evidence. If the evidence in the case does not cause you to believe a particular proposition submitted, then you cannot return a verdict requiring belief of that proposition.

MAI 2.02

In returning your verdict you will form beliefs as to the facts. The court does not mean to assume as true any fact referred to in these instructions but leaves it to you to determine what the facts are.

MAI 4.01

If you find in favor of plaintiff, then you must award plaintiff such sum as you believe will fairly and justly compensate plaintiff for any damages you believe she sustained and is reasonably certain to sustain in the future as a direct result of the occurrence mentioned in the evidence.

MAI 11.02

The term “negligent” or “negligence” as used in this instruction means the failure to use that degree of care that a very careful person would use under the same or similar circumstances.

MAI 14.05

The phrase “yield the right?of?way” as used in these instructions means a driver is required to yield at the stop sign if the other vehicle is within the intersection or is so close to the intersection that it is an immediate hazard.

MAI 14.07

The phrase “yield the right?of?way” as used in these instructions means a driver attempting to make a left turn into a driveway is required to yield when another vehicle is approaching from the opposite direction and the making of the left turn would create a traffic hazard.

MAI 17.02

Your verdict must be for plaintiff if you believe:

First, either:

defendant failed to yield, or

defendant failed to keep a careful lookout, and

Second, defendant, in any one or more of the respects submitted in paragraph First, was thereby negligent, and

Third, as a direct result of such negligence, plaintiff sustained damage.

MAI 34.05

In determining the total amount of plaintiff's damages you are not to consider any evidence of prior payment to or on behalf of plaintiff. The judge will consider any such payment and make an adjustment if required by law.

In the case I tried the Judge asks the Bailiff to receive the verdict from the jury foreman. The form is here:

VERDICT

Note: Complete this form by writing in the name required by your verdict.

On the claim of Plaintiff _________ for personal injuries against Defendant _______________, we, the undersigned jurors, find in favor of:

_____________________________________________________________

(Plaintiff (state the name)) or (Defendant (state the name))

Note: Complete the following paragraph only if the above finding is in favor of plaintiff ________________.

We, the undersigned jurors, assess the damages of plaintiff ______________ at $__________________________.

(stating the amount)

Note: All jurors who agree to the above findings must sign below.

In this example, all 12 jurors signed in favor of the Plaintiff.

____________________________ _____________________________

____________________________ _____________________________

____________________________ _____________________________

In other cases, a comparative fault instruction may be used. That form is here:

COMPARATIVE FAULT VERDICT

Note: Complete the following paragraph by filling in the blanks as required by your verdict. If you assess a percentage of fault to any of those listed below, write in a percentage not greater than 100%, otherwise write in "zero" next to that name. If you assess a percentage of fault to any of those listed below, the total of such percentages must be 100%.

On the claim of plaintiff ______________ for personal injury, we, the undersigned jurors, assess percentages of fault as follows:

Defendant _____________ __________% (zero to 100%)

Plaintiff _____________ __________% (zero to 100%)

TOTAL __________% (zero OR 100%)

Note: Complete the following paragraph if you assessed a percentage of fault to defendant:

We, the undersigned jurors, find the total amount of plaintiff's damages disregarding any fault on the part of plaintiff to be $___________________________ .

(stating the amount)

Note: The judge will reduce the total amount of plaintiff's damages by any percentage of fault you assess to plaintiff.

Note: All jurors who agree to the above must sign below.

____________________________ _____________________________

____________________________ _____________________________

____________________________ _____________________________

If you have a case that requires a trial, please contact the law firm of Cantor Injury Law, LLC at (314) 542-9999. You may also look to us as experts in the area of Missouri Workers' Compensation, Medical Malpractice, Premises Liability, and other tort areas.

Lastly, look to this blog for future articles on, how a jury is selected, the process of a trial, and what occurs after a jury verdict.

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