While most personal cases can be successfully settled outside of a courtroom, not all insurance companies can be persuaded to do the right thing. So when negotiations fail, that’s when cases are taken to trial.
When a personal injury case goes to trial, the defendant (the party accused of causing the victim’s injury) has the same right to an impartial jury that accused people have in criminal cases.
Juries are typically comprised of people who live in the area where the trial is being held, and they receive letters in the mail telling them to report to their local courthouses on a specific date for the jury selection process.
However, not everyone who gets called up for jury duty gets accepted to serve on the jury, and while those who are called up are selected at random from eligible citizens, those who are accepted are not.
Instead, they are chosen by attorneys on both sides in an effort to make the trial as fair as possible. In fact, the jury selection process is perhaps the most important part of any personal injury trial and can make or break your chances of receiving the full compensation you are owed.
What Happens During Jury Selection?
The jury selection process is known as Voir Dire, which in French means “to speak the truth.” It refers to the oath taken by jurors to truthfully bring up any opinions, biases, or prejudices that may affect their ability to act fairly or impartially as a juror.
While we call it jury selection, it is really much more about identifying and removing any bad options for jurors than it is about choosing good options. The goal of Voir Dire is to weed out jurors that, for whatever reason, may have already decided who they will side with in the trial before having heard any of the evidence.
Both the plaintiff’s (the injured party) and the defendant’s attorneys will have an opportunity to speak to and question all the candidates in the jury pool. The plaintiff’s attorney always gets to question the jurors first, then the defense’s attorney gets their turn.
After questioning the potential jurors, the attorneys will tell the judge which jurors they would like removed.
However, the judge must approve all requests to remove jurors, so the attorneys must be able to provide a reason why they think the juror won’t be able to do his or her job fairly and impartially. The judge also has the ability to limit how long the attorneys can speak to the jurors, prevent them from asking “unfair” questions, and limit the number of jurors they can remove.
What Type of Questions Are Asked in Voir Dire?
Questions during Voir Dire are supposed to root out existing biases, so they will usually refer to aspects of the case and the jurors’ knowledge or emotional reaction to the case.
For example, common questions will include, “Have you, a friend, or a family member ever worked for an insurance company?” or “Have you, a friend, or family member ever filed a personal injury claim before?”
If they answer yes to the first question, they are likely going to be more sympathetic to the defendant from the start, while if they answered yes to the second question, they will likely be more sympathetic to the accident victim. Jurors may also be asked about their personal life or taste in books or movies to see if these suggest sympathies in either direction.
Questions can also be specific to the type of case. For example, if the accident was a slip and fall injury in a restaurant, jurors might be asked if they’ve ever worked in a restaurant before. If the accident was a car crash, jurors might be asked if they are familiar with the intersection where the crash happened, or “Do you think most people are good drivers or bad drivers?”
Jurors will also be asked about how they feel about lawsuits in general. Examples of questions may include, “Do you think there are too many frivolous lawsuits?”, “Do you think it’s right to award money for pain and suffering?”, “Do you think someone injured in an accident always shares in the blame?”, and “How would you judge your ability to tell when someone is lying?”
For What Reason Can a Juror Be Removed?
Louisiana legal code allows potential jurors to be removed from the jury panel for five reasons.
- The juror lacks a qualification required by law.
- The juror has already formed an opinion about the case.
- The juror is previously acquainted with any party involved.
- The juror served on a previous jury which tried the same case, or one arising out of the same facts.
- The juror refused to answer a question during Voir Dire on the basis their answer might incriminate themselves.
Get a Lawyer Who Can Pick the Right Jury
Because the jury selection process is so important, it’s absolutely vital to make sure you hire a lawyer who knows how to question jurors the right way to make sure the deck isn’t stacked against you before you even get a chance to share your story.
The media often portrays personal injury lawsuits as frivolous, but we know that’s not true. Accident victims simply want their lives to go back to normal, and for that, they need money to pay their bills, recover their lost wages, and compensate them for the needless suffering they went through. We’ll make sure the jury knows it, too.
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