The Importance of the Right Jury Instructions in Your California Accident Case

If you watch many TV courtroom shows, you’ll likely see at least one or more moments when the action reaches a peak of tension or drama. This often involves some groundbreaking reveal discovered while a witness is testifying in open court, which shifts the odds and allows the just outcome to be reached. Rarely, if ever, will you see your favorite courtroom show build to a dramatic crescendo around attorneys arguing over what jury instructions the judge will read to the jury. Yet, in the real world, it is details like these, and getting them right, that can make all the difference between success or defeat, whether you’re in criminal or civil court. To make sure you have the representation you need when it comes to “sweating the small stuff,” be sure you have an experienced San Mateo injury attorney on your side.

To see how important these things can be, look at what happened in the case of U.S.G., an injured pedestrian. In the city of Salinas, there is a shopping mall whose driveway meets a public road at a “T” intersection. A crosswalk runs along that driveway. The crosswalk was situated on public land, and was the city’s responsibility when it came to maintenance. The city originally painted the crosswalk’s white lines in 1997. Those lines were never touched up or repainted at any point after the original 1997 paint job.

These unfortunate facts came to matter a great deal for U.S.G., who was crossing the driveway inside the faded crosswalk one day in 2013 when a truck turned left off the public road and onto the driveway. The truck slammed into the pedestrian, seriously injuring her.

When you’re faced with an accident that unfolds the way this woman’s did, you have several options in litigation. You can pursue the truck driver for negligence for an unsafe left turn. If the truck driver was on the job and performing tasks on behalf of her employer, you may also be able to obtain compensation from the employer based on a legal concept known as vicarious liability. Alternately, if the driver had a “checkered” driving history even prior to the accident, you might be able to pursue the employer for negligent hiring of the driver. Furthermore, you might have a case against the city for maintaining the crosswalk in an insufficiently safe condition by allowing the paint to fade without repainting the crosswalk.

U.S.G. and her husband took such strategic action, suing several defendants in their case, including the driver, the city and others. Even though the jury thought that the city needed to repaint the crosswalk, they still ruled in favor of the city (although they awarded the pedestrian a multi-million dollar judgment against the truck driver).

Why did the city prevail despite the jury’s opinion of the state of the crosswalk? It came down to the jury instructions that the judge gave them. Despite objections from the pedestrian’s lawyers and recommendations for different jury instructions, the judge gave the jury two instructions related to the city’s potential liability that focused on whether or not the “design of the driveway” was unreasonably dangerous.

‘Hopelessly confusing’ jury instruction required a reversal

That jury instruction was the crux of the pedestrian’s successful appeal. The driveway design instruction that the trial court chose was in direct conflict with other instructions the jury received, in addition to being the wrong one for this case. The instructions gave the jurors legally incorrect information regarding what they could, and could not, rely upon in deciding if the city was liable. The instructions given to the jury were “hopelessly confusing” and required reversal of the judgment for the city.

This meant that the pedestrian was entitled to return to the trial court and pursue the city anew, this time presumably with a less harmful set of jury instructions. With less hostile jury instructions, the pedestrian would presumably have an enhanced chance of success against the city, to go along with the success she already achieved against the driver.

Not every case may come down to the instructions your jury receives, but any injury action can be enhanced by counsel that knows how to give you every possible legal advantage. The diligent and determined San Mateo personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos have been helping injured people for many years in achieving positive results. To set up a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

A Southern California Family Receives a $4.528M Verdict After a Fatal Pedestrian-Versus-Truck Accident, San Mateo Injury Lawyers Blog, Published December 19, 2018

An Accident Along the Famed Venice Beach Boardwalk Leads to a $14M Settlement, San Mateo Injury Lawyers Blog, Published June 13, 2018