| Posted by Stevenson Whelton LLP
October 07, 2019
The plaintiff in a 2018 civil action had been injured when her stopped car was struck by another vehicle, propelling the plaintiff’s car into an intersection. The plaintiff’s vehicle was so severely damaged that it had to be written off, and the plaintiff sustained torn rotator cuff tendons in both shoulders as well as injuries to the facet and sacroiliac joints in her lower back. The plaintiff claimed that her shoulder and back injuries adversely affected her range of movement and also resulted in neuropathic pain, and she filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver who caused the accident, to compensate her for her losses and pain.
The two orthopaedic surgeons for the opposing sides provided evidence that disagreed on whether the plaintiff suffered from a degenerative condition that started before the accident or was caused by the accident. The opposing medical experts also disputed the presence of neuropathic pain and whether the plaintiff had suffered joint injuries. And, the lawyer for the defence provided questions that he wanted the jurors to answer to explain their thinking on the issues of causation and liability.
In Poonwasee v. Plaza (2018), the judge was required to rule on whether the defendant is allowed to submit the following questions to be answered by the jurors:
- “Was there any negligence on the part of the defendant  which caused or contributed to the accident”?
- If yes, provide an explanation.
- “Did the motor vehicle accident cause the Plaintiff any injuries?”
- If yes, list injuries that the Plaintiff suffered as a result of the accident.
Defence counsel stated that including these questions is normal practice in the jurisdiction holding the trial and allows the Court to determine if the jury reached a ‘perverse verdict’ or a verdict that is contrary to the weight of the evidence. However, plaintiff’s counsel argued that the questions could complicate matters and potentially result in an unnecessary appeal.
The judge noted that caselaw suggests that there are both advantages and disadvantages to asking a jury to provide details on their thinking. The main advantage is that this information can ‘test’ a jury’s understanding of the judge’s instructions and can ensure that the jury did not make an emotional verdict rather than abiding by the law. However, the judge disagreed with a suggestion that a jury “should provide particulars for the same reason that trial judges are obligated to provide reasons” because a trial judge’s decisions are expected to provide transparency while a jury’s decision has no such requirement.
The disadvantages of requiring a jury to provide particulars is that jurors don’t always agree on their reasons for their unanimous decision and revealing their thinking risks revealing their deliberations. Further, the judge noted that when jurors try to articulate the details of their findings, they may be distracted from their main objective which is to decide on liability and damages.
It is the discretion of a trial judge to decide which questions may be put to a jury, and the appropriateness of a specific question depends on the circumstances of a case. In the current case, the jury was tasked with deciding causation and liability for the accident, and the judge found that there was no reason to test the jury’s understanding of the standard instructions for these two key issues.
Furthermore, jurors in this case may agree and decide that the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the car accident, but may disagree on the nature of the injuries, since they will be presented with conflicting evidence on the type, severity and cause of injuries. In fact, jurors are not required to agree on the reason for their conclusions and they may be unnecessarily confused if they need to list the plaintiff’s injuries. For all these reasons, the judge ruled that the jury will not be asked to provide particulars on the defendant’s negligence or on the plaintiff’s injuries.
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