Massachusetts Appellate Court Affirms Defense Verdict, Rejecting Plaintiff’s Challenge to Jury Instructions

559px-Trial_by_Jury_UsherThere are countless procedural aspects of a lawsuit that can have a dispositive bearing on the outcome of your case. Whether it is a motion for summary judgment on one of your claims, or the denial of a motion in limine regarding a sensitive issue prior to trial, it is critical that your attorney understands how to navigate the procedural aspects of a lawsuit. One of the most common ways that procedural issues arise is through jury instructions.

In general, jury instructions are the legal rules provided to jurors before they begin their deliberation. The rules can cover everything from which party has the burden of proof to the specific elements that a party must prove to prevail on a claim or affirmative defense. Although there are some documents that serve as model jury instructions, the parties and the court can craft a unique set of instructions for the lawsuit at hand.

A recent case illustrates the critical nature that jury instructions can play in a lawsuit. In Dahlquist v. Lydon Millwright Services, Inc., the plaintiff suffered injuries after the car she was driving was rear-ended by a truck at a stop sign. The plaintiff reported suffering a number of injuries, including harm to her hand, shoulder, head, neck, and arm. She eventually filed suit against the driver who rear-ended her vehicle and the owner of the truck.

In response to the plaintiff’s allegations, the defendant driver claimed that he originally came to a complete stop behind the plaintiff’s vehicle. According to his version of the facts, his truck collided with the rear end of the plaintiff’s vehicle after she accelerated away from the stop sign. He also claimed that the collision was a very low impact and resulted in negligible damage to her vehicle.

The lawsuit eventually went to trial. Before the jury began deliberations, the plaintiff requested three jury instructions regarding comparative negligence, 720 Code Mass. Regs. Section 9.06(7) (prohibiting drivers from following too closely), and Section 9.06(13) (covering drivers’ duty to stop at isolated stop signs). The plaintiff also requested that the judge provide an instruction stating that individuals owe a general duty to not injure others by disregarding their safety.

Ultimately, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendants. The plaintiff appealed on the basis that the lower court erred in rejecting the plaintiff’s request to provide a specific instruction regarding comparative fault or regarding whether the defendant had failed to comply with a safety statute. According to the appellate court, the lower court appropriately provided instructions regarding the four elements of negligence:  duty, breach, causation, and damages. The appellate court also concluded that the lower court’s instruction regarding comparative negligence was appropriate. Massachusetts has adopted a modified comparative fault standard. This means that if the jury determines the plaintiff was 51 percent or more at fault, he or she will be barred from recovery.

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries in a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation. Navigating the judicial system and ensuring that your rights are asserted throughout the litigation can be daunting and stressful, especially if you are coping with painful injuries. At the Law Office of John S. Moffa, our seasoned trial lawyers have represented numerous Massachusetts residents in car accident cases and are ready to put our experience and knowledge to use for you. We offer a free consultation to help you learn about the legal options available to you. Call us now at 1-800-446-4485 or contact us online to set up your appointment.

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