According to the American Bar Association, only a small percentage of personal injury cases go to trial, as the majority are dismissed or settled prior. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) is the framework the majority of local courts use in crafting their own procedural rules. Once an action has progressed through pleadings, pre-trial, and discovery, the trier of fact (the jury) may enter the process. We will generally review some of these key aspects, beginning with jury selection.
If the court examines the qualifications among a pool of potential jurors, then the parties are afforded the opportunity to do so in a reasonable manner, commonly this process is described by the French term “voir dire.” Parties are allowed a specified number of peremptory challenges in selecting a jury, which allow them to exclude or dismiss certain jurors. Federal rules require juries to consist of between six and twelve members.
Verdict & Polling
In federal courts, juries must be unanimous to reach a verdict. After a jury reaches a verdict, a party may request an opportunity to poll jury members. Counsel for the party who had the unfavorable outcome may probe the jurors for potential improprieties that occurred in reaching a verdict or to discover a possible lack of consensus. Although very rare, if the verdict was found to be reached improperly, it could be a basis for petitioning the court for a new trial.
Local state civil procedures will vary considerably; for example, in Pennsylvania, five-sixths of the jury is sufficient to render a verdict. In Pennsylvania procedure, when juries fail to reach 5/6 majority in a reasonable time frame under certain circumstances the court has the discretion to poll individual jurors. Verdicts in PA may be general, where the jury simply finds in favor of one party, or have “special” verdict forms or provisions.
General & Special Verdicts
Federal procedure allows for court discretion relating to general or special jury verdicts such as:
- Advising a jury with the specific instructions needed to reach a finding
- Requiring written findings on facts
- Use forms that ask specific questions
- If answers to questions are deemed consistent with one another, but not with the general verdict, the court may advise the jury to reconsider the answers and/or verdict
- If answers to questions are deemed inconsistent with one another and the verdict, the court may have to order a new trial
Judgment as Matter of Law
Federal Rule 50 explains what happens when the court determines there is lack of evidence necessary for a jury to find for a party. If insufficient evidence exists for the jury, the court may decide against that party or as a matter of law approve a motion for judgment. Such a motion is possible at any point prior to case submission to the jury, as long as supported by law that justifies it.