WHO DECIDES YOUR PERSONAL INJURY CASE? WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT JURY SELECTION | Gardi & Haught, Ltd.

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WHO DECIDES YOUR PERSONAL INJURY CASE? WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT JURY SELECTION

WHO DECIDES YOUR PERSONAL INJURY CASE? WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT JURY SELECTION

By Parag Bhosale

It’s natural for people who have been wronged or injured by another to want their “day in court” to feel heard and vindicated for their suffering. Attorneys, on the other hand, often seek a faster, more prudent resolution of personal injury claims through mediation or settlement out of court. However, when going to trial is necessary, a competent personal injury attorney will do their best to defend your case and of course, pick the fairest jury possible to obtain a favorable verdict.

Be aware that when you go to trial, your fate rests in the hands of random people who wield a lot of power over your case. They are called the jury, a group of random people selected from a pool of individuals that were summoned for jury duty that day. They can be young or old, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, and possess a variety of mild, moderate, or extreme biases.  These will include a wide spectrum of political and religious perspectives on the world.

As a personal injury attorney representing you as a plaintiff in court, my job is to actively participate in the jury selection. By asking them a series of questions, my aim is not necessarily to predict which prospective juror will vote in your favor, but to uncover those who may be unfavorable to you in the deliberation process. Attorneys do their best, but there is no attorney in the world who can guarantee that every potential juror they choose for your case will absolutely vote positively for you.

After prosecuting scores of personal injury trials, I have become somewhat skilled at choosing jurors who will serve in the best interest of my plaintiff. However, selecting a jury is always risky business to a certain extent, and here’s why.

  1. Jury selection is done in cooperation with the judge. In Cook County, you will probably not know which judge will hear your case until the day of the trial. This can be a disadvantage for your attorney if they have not worked with the judge before, but your attorney can request a change of judge one time, and these requests are usually granted the same day without question. Every judge has their own jury selection process, but some give the jurors a written survey before they are brought into the courtroom for selection. Attorneys can use the answers on those surveys to guide their own questioning of the potential jurors.
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  3. There are limits as to what can be revealed in jury selection. A group of 36 prospective jurors are called into the courtroom and the judge and attorney must choose 12 to serve as jurors at the trial. The jurors are typically given some general information about the case (i.e., this is an injury case) and they are asked if they know the plaintiff, defendant, or witnesses. However, they cannot reveal details about the plaintiff’s personal situation or the defendant’s insurance.
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  5. There are limits as to what can be asked in jury selection. Potential jurists are questioned in groups of 12. Typically, the judge questions the group in general, then attorneys are normally given about 15 minutes to ask individual questions to the jurors in the group. Attorneys are not allowed to ask personal or probing questions. If they are necessary, they can question them out of earshot from the jurors but in the presence of the judge.
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  7. An attorney tries to eliminate those adverse to your position but only through educated guesses. Attorneys cannot guarantee a juror will vote in your favor, so they typically try to figure out who probably won’t. The first order of business is to eliminate those who may be unstable or have ideas outside of the mainstream. For example, I cannot ask someone what religion they practice, but I can ask them where they get their news, what blogs they follow, or who has had a big influence on them. Also, with such a short time period allowed to question the potential jurors, attorneys also can’t help but make some fast assumptions about people based on their occupations and life experience. For example, a postal worker or someone in the service industry might be sympathetic to my client who works in a similar occupation. A prospective juror who is an accountant may get too hung up on the details of my client’s hospital bills once they hit deliberation. I may assume that a prospective juror who has been injured before may be a good juror for my client, based on their own past experience. This can however, cut both ways. A person who has been injured in the past may compare their injury with that of my client as determine that they were hurt far worse and receive nothing, so it’s only fair that my client not receive an award.

Attorneys can also “challenge for cause,” meaning they believe the juror’s answers exhibit an incurable bias against the case in some way and should not be considered to be on the jury at all (such as a relationship with someone on trial).

All attorneys do their best in the process, but there are no guarantees that you will win the case.

  1. The personalities of the jurors do not necessarily predict success. As much as we try to stack the jury in our client’s favor, when a jury leaves to deliberate a case, they think collectively. One or two dominant personalities can derail any juror that your attorney was certain would side with you. Another potential problem is misrepresentation. Jurors are under oath when questioned, but they may still withhold information or present themselves inaccurately when questioned in the courtroom.
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  3. Your attorney may not be able to select every juror they want. Some judges conduct selection by dividing the 12 jurors into panels of four. The two attorneys for the plaintiff and the defendant are allowed to strike six jurors without having to give the judge much of a reason. This is called a “peremptory challenge,” which let’s an attorney strike a juror based solely on gut instinct.

It’s also important to be prepared for jury selection to take more than a day. Jury selection is an arduous process. Once the jurors are assigned to a courtroom, attorneys are not allowed to speak to them, even in the hallway or in passing.  They are allowed, however, to review the court reporter’s transcripts that day if they need clarification or forget a juror’s answer to a question.

Once the lucky 12 are selected, they go right away to the jury room to await further instructions from the judge. The courts take great care to make the jury experience as comfortable as possible. Jurors are given breaks and typically dismissed by five o’clock in the afternoon.

Going to trial and choosing a jury to serve is an expensive, time-consuming process that most plaintiffs wish to avoid. However, if it is necessary to head to court, be sure you are represented by a knowledgeable, experienced, personal injury trial attorney like the ones at Gardi & Haught. We have the proven track record and ability to make sure that once you hit the courtroom, you have a fair trial and the most impartial jury possible. Request a Free Case Evaluation by clicking on the button below.

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