Important Things to Know About the Charge to the Jury
The jury charge is a set of questions that a jury answers at the end of a trial to decide the material questions necessary to decide who wins the case. The Judge will give the jury the relevant law that helps them decide the fact questions in the case. The Jugde will certainly define what negligence is, the definition of preponderance of the evidence (which is the burden of proof), and the number of jurors it takes to answer each question. (Usually 10 out of 12 jurors must answer each question to get a verdict, unlike the unanimous verdicts required in criminal cases.)
He will also instruct the jury not to consider whether either side has insurance, and that they should be influenced by bias or sympathy for one side or the other.
Then, he will ask whose negligence caused the occurrence. Usually, there are several blanks, including blanks for the Defendant, the Plaintiff, and others not a part of the suit that may bear responsibility.
He will ask the jury to compare the responsibility between the various parties in separate question. Therefore, the jury may decide, for instance, that the Defendant(s) who was sued was 70% at fault, the Plaintiff who brought the suit 10 % at fault, and others -such as an employer and who is not part of the suit because the law does not allow one to sue one’s employer–20 % at fault. The jury is not told the effect of these answers, but the Judge will not allow the Plaintiff to recover any money unless the Plaintiff’s fault was 50% or less. Further, the Judge will reduce the Plaintiff’s award by the percentage of fault attributed to him. Thus, if the Plaintiff was awarded $100,000.00 and the jury found the Plaintiff 10% at fault, he would only receive $90,000.00. If the Plaintiff was found 51% at fault, he would get nothing.
Finally, the jury decides how much compensation to award the Plaintiff. The jury is given several elements of damage to consider such as the amount of medical expenses, lost earing capacity, pain, suffering, mental anguish, and impairment. The jury is given wide discretion on how much to award. The lawyers for each side suggest answers, but these suggestions are not binding in any manner. The jury is free to award more, less, or no money at all. Their answers should be based on the evidence.
The manner and basis for the jury’s answers is never disclosed. By law, it is privileged. A Judge looks at the answers, and renders a Judgment, which is a court order regarding who won, and how much money, if any, is to be paid to the Plaintiff.
Samples of jury verdicts and Judgments are posted in this library from actual cases to assist you in understanding more about the Jury Charge in Texas.