Massachusetts Appellate Court Explains the Standard Judges Must Use When Choosing Jury Instructions in Car Accident Cases

There are several critical points in a lawsuit, including a number of procedural steps. Before the jury deliberates on whether or not a defendant acted negligently, the judge will provide the jury with a set of jury instructions that the jury must follow when deliberating. Many parties appeal the outcome of a jury’s decision on the basis that the judge did not give the proper jury instruction. Knowing whether or not the judge is providing the proper instruction and advocating for the instructions that are the fairest and most equitable to your case is a critical step in your lawsuit. As seasoned Boston car accident attorneys, we have courtroom experience that we are ready to put to use on your behalf.

In a recent case, the appellate court considered a plaintiff’s challenge to the jury instructions that the judge provided. The woman was injured in a motor vehicle crash and filed a suit against the driver of the other vehicle alleging that the defendant acted negligently and caused her injuries. The defendant was working at the time of the crash when he allegedly rear-ended the plaintiff as she was attempting to turn right onto a busy street.

The judge declined to instruct the jury on violating a safety statute on the basis that the regulations the plaintiff cited in support of the proposed instruction referred to public highways and there was no evidence in the judge’s opinion that the accident involved a public highway. He also declined to instruct the jury on comparative negligence. The plaintiff appealed on the basis that omitting these instructions and failing to provide a more complete instruction regarding the issue of the defendant’s duty to the plaintiff was a reversible error.

The appellate court rejected this argument, citing case law that provides a trial judge with “wide discretion” in selecting jury instructions and the specific language used. The judge does not have to use the specific language that is included in the requested jury instruction. The only instance in which a judge can be reversed on the basis of a challenge to a jury instruction is where the judge does not address a critical issue in the lawsuit. The appellate court also agreed with the lower court’s refusal to instruct the jury about the safety statute, agreeing that the plaintiff failed to offer evidence connecting the accident to a public highway. Also, because the issue of comparative negligence had not been raised in the trial through testimony or other means, it was appropriate for the trial court to refuse to provide this instruction to the jury as well.

If you were hurt in a car accident and want to learn more about your potential right to compensation, our experienced and knowledgeable trial lawyers are standing by to answer your questions. We offer a free consultation to discuss your situation and the potential options that may be available to you. To schedule your appointment, please call us at 617-263-0060 or contact us online.