Proposed Louisiana Simple and Easy to Understand General Jury Instruction

Retired Louisiana District and Court of Appeal Judge, Bob Downing, provided this simple and easy to understand general jury instruction that he often used when he was a Louisiana district court judge. The new Louisiana Supreme Court Committee tasked with trying to simply the current jury instructions in use today would be well served to review retired-Judge Downing’s closing instruction:

CLOSING JURY INSTRUCTION

You should deliberate on this case without regard to sympathy, prejudice, or passion for or against any party to this suit. This case should be considered as an action between persons of equal standing in the community. A corporation or an insurance company is entitled to the same fair trial at your hands as a private individual. All persons stand equal before the law, and are to be dealt with as equals.

If I have said or done anything which has suggested to you that I favor the claim of either party, you should disregard it. If I have indicated in any way that I have any opinion as to the facts in this case, you should disregard that. I am not the judge of the facts. You are the judges of the facts.

It is your duty as jurors to follow the law as I state it to you. Whether or not you agree with the law, you must follow the law.

You should consider what I say about the law as a whole. You should not single out any one sentence, or individual point or idea, and ignore the others. The order in which the statements about the law are made has no significance as to their relative importance.

The evidence which you are to consider consists of the testimony of the witnesses, the documents, if any, that have been admitted into evidence, and any reasonable conclusions which you can draw from the evidence submitted to you. Neither the arguments by the lawyers, nor any comment or ruling which I may have made is evidence.

In judging the truthfulness of the witnesses which you have heard, you should have in mind the rule that a witness is presumed to speak the truth about facts within his knowledge. This presumption, however, may be overcome by contradictory evidence, by the manner in which the witness testified, by the character of his testimony, or by evidence that relates to his motives.

You are not bound to decide any issue of fact in accordance with the number or witnesses presented on that point. The test is not which side brings the greater amount of evidence, but rather which witnesses and which evidence appeals to your minds as being the most accurate and the most convincing.

EXPERTS

Lay witnesses are expected to testify about facts within their knowledge; the rules of evidence ordinarily do not permit witnesses to testify as to their opinions or conclusions about those facts. An exception to this rule exists as to those whom we call “expert witnesses.” These are people who, by education and experience, have become expert in some field, and are permitted to state their opinions as to relevant matters in the fields in which they profess to be expert, and give their reasons for those opinions. You should consider each expert opinion received into evidence in this case, and give it such weight as you may think it deserves.

If you should decide that the opinion of an expert witness is not based upon sufficient education and experience, or if you should conclude that the reasons given in support of the opinion are not sound, or if you feel that it is outweighed by other evidence, you may disregard the opinion entirely.

FAULT

This is a suit seeking damages for injury caused by the act of another. The applicable law is found in Article 2315 of our Civil Code:

“Every act whatever of man that causes damage to another obliges him by whose fault it happened to repair it.”

Plaintiff must prove more probable than not that:

(1) the defendant was at fault;
(2) the injury the plaintiff suffered was, in fact, caused by the fault of the defendants; and (3) there was actual damage to the plaintiff’s person or his property.

If you decide that the plaintiff has established these elements of his case more probable than not, you must decide the question of whether there has been damage to his person or his property and if so, the amount of that damage.

DAMAGES

Our law, contemplates just and reasonable compensation for injuries. It suggests no idea of revenge or punishment. Accordingly, our law doe not permit the awarding of damages to punish the defendant, or make an example of him to prevent other accidents, and you should include no such amount in your award. Your award should be designed to fully and fairly compensate the plaintiff for his injury, if you find one has occurred, and should not go beyond such compensation.

The law realizes the difficulty in translating personal injuries into a dollars and cents figure, but that is what must be done. You must arrive at a figure that will fairly and adequately compensate the plaintiff for the damage he has already suffered, and that he will in all likelihood suffer in the future. In estimating such damages, you may take into consideration the following elements:

(1) physical injury suffered;
(2) pain and suffering, both physical and mental;
(3) permanent disability, if any;
(4) loss of earnings, if any;
(5) medical expenses;
(6) property damage;
(7) loss of consortium.

Like other parts of the plaintiff’s case, these damages must be established more probable than not. This means, on the one hand, that you are not entitled to award speculative damages for injuries which you think the plaintiff might have suffered or might suffer in the future; on the other hand, it means that you may make an effort to reasonably approximate the damages which plaintiff has proved are more probable than not, even though they cannot be computed with mathematical certainty.

In reaching a verdict on the question of damages, do not include anything for payment of court costs and attorneys fees; the law does not consider these as damages suffered by the plaintiff. Any amount which you might award to the plaintiff is not income within the meaning of the income tax laws.

If you decide to make and award, do not add or subtract from that award on account of federal or state income taxes.

Finally, let me say that the fact that I have given you these statements about the law of damages does not in any way imply that I feel that any damages are due in this case. Whether or not damages are due is solely for you to determine.

The first thing you should do when you retire to the jury room is elect a foreperson. That person should act as a moderator, not an advocate. The foreperson should make sure that each juror is heard.

It is usually not a good idea for a juror, when he first enters the jury room, to make an emphatic expression of his opinion on the case or announce a determination to stand for a certain verdict. When one does that at the outset, his sense of pride may be at issue, and he may hesitate to back down from an announced position, even if he is shown to be wrong. Remember that you are not advocates in this matter, but rather you are judges.

You each must decide the case for yourself, but you should do so only after a consideration of the case with your fellow jurors, and you should not hesitate to change an opinion when you are convinced you are wrong. However, you should not be influenced to vote in anyway on any question which you have to decide by the fact that a majority of your fellow jurors favor such a decision. In other words, you should not surrender your honest convictions for the mere purpose of returning a verdict or solely because of the opinion of the other jurors.

The law requires that nine of you agree in order to render a verdict for either side.

When nine of you are of the same opinion about this case, that ends your deliberation and that opinion should be your verdict. Sign and date the verdict form and notify the Bailiff..

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