General Rules of Jury Instructions in Louisiana

The primary responsibility for instructing the jury lies with the judge. La. C.C.P. art. 1792(B). Adequate jury instructions are those that fairly and reasonably point out the issues presented by the evidence and the pleadings and provide correct principles of law for the jury to apply. Luman v. Highlands Ins. Co., 25,445 (La. App. 2 Cir. 2/23/94), 632 So.2d 910. Since 1997, paragraph C of Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 1792 has allowed the jury to review a written copy of the instructions.

The court is not required to give the precise instructions requested by either party. Rather, the judge must give instructions that properly reflect the applicable law in light of the facts of the particular case. Goodman v. Allstate Ins. Co., 98-732 (La. App. 5 Cir. 5/19/99), 736 So.2d 310, writs denied, 99-1788, 99-1793 (La. 10/1/99), 748 So.2d 450. “Proper jury instructions are those which fairly and reasonably point up the issues presented by the pleadings and evidence and provide correct principles of law for the jury to apply to those issues.” Crooks v. National Union Fire Ins. Co., 620 So.2d 421 (La. App. 3rd Cir.), writs denied, 629 So.2d 391, 392 (La. 1993). Obviously, a requested instruction that misstates the law is objectionable. But even if it correctly states the law, a requested instruction can be refused if it repeats matters included elsewhere in the instructions, Wilson v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 401 So.2d 500 (La. App. 2d Cir. 1981), or if there is not sufficient evidence to support it, Knight v. First Guaranty Bank, 577 So.2d 263 (La. App. 1st Cir.), writs denied, 581 So.2d 688, 690 (La. 1990).

The Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal has repeatedly stated that “[t]he trial court is responsible for reducing the possibility of confusing the jury.” Baxter v. Sonat Offshore Drilling, 98-1054 (La. App. 1 Cir. 5/14/99), 734 So.2d 901; see also McCrea v. Petroleum, Inc., 96-1962 (La. App. 1 Cir. 12/29/97), 705 So.2d 787; Johnson v. Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office, 95-1180 (La. App. 1 Cir. 2/23/96), 669 So.2d 577, writ denied, 96-727 (La. 4/26/96), 672 So.2d 907. This responsibility should persuade the trial court that, whenever possible, accurate instructions in plain English should be preferred over legalese.

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