The Seventh Amendment of the United States of the Constitution provides: “In suits at common law, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.” Jury service is an obligation of members of our community. To get the benefits of our amazing country and justice system, people who are non-felons, over the age of 18 and registered to vote, are asked to serve on juries. Without jurors to perform this essential function, our justice system could not exist.
All jurors called for jury duty are certainly qualified, but a juror’s belief system may determine the type of case for which they are best suited: whether it is a criminal case, a contract dispute, employment discrimination or a personal injury case like auto accidents, medical malpractice or premises liability. People who cannot sit in judgment or convict a person of a crime should not sit on a jury. Recently, a criminal case in front of Judge Jimmy Edwards in the City of St. Louis had to be declared a mistrial because a juror failed to disclose his personal religious view that he could not sit in judgment of others. That juror sat in the corner of a jury room for two days of deliberations despite the request by the jury foreman, jurors and the judge to participate in the decision. That case now has to be retried and was a big of waste of time and money for all involved. When criminal charges are brought against a person, and his or her liberty is at stake, a jury must find that person guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” However, when the controversy is civil in nature — a money dispute between two parties — the case must be proven by a preponderance of evidence. This means a party must prove their propositions are more likely than not, or by 51%.
Our firm has already picked three juries through a process called voir dire in 2015. Voir dire is an essential part of trying a case and enables a lawyer to talk directly with prospective jurors about their personal views. On February 3, 2015, Gary Burger represented a dog attack victim at trial. The dog had not bitten anyone before and the young man did not have that much of a visual scar. Gary was able to strike 28 out of the 50 jurors for cause because they candidly expressed their views that they would either not be able to compensate the plaintiff for his pain and suffering or would require more proof than 51% to award that pain and suffering. Missouri law on challenges for cause provides that “no person who has formed or expressed an opinion concerning the matter in controversy in any case that may influence the judgment of such person… shall be sworn as a juror in that case” (Mo.Rev.Stat. section 494.470.1). Both the prosecutor or plaintiff and defendant in both civil and criminal cases ought to have a fair and impartial jury always. Justice requires this.
Gary’s client obtained a verdict of $20,000 who had $3,500.00 in medical bills. This is a good and fair verdict from the jury. The damage instruction in Missouri says that if a jury finds for a plaintiff they “must award such sum they believe will fairly and justly compensate plaintiff for all the damages he sustained.” So, it would be inappropriate for a juror to decide not to fairly compensate someone because they have a personal or political view that personal injury damages should not be awarded or that pain and suffering damages should not be awarded. Some people think a person should only get ten cents on the dollar for their pain and suffering, or needs 85% or 95% proof, rather than 51% for pain and suffering damages. That’s ok – but those who have those beliefs ought to serve on different juries and not personal injury cases. Once potential jurors state they will require more than 51% proof or have trouble awarding pain and suffering damages, defense counsel cannot save a prospective juror by rehabilitating them through coercive leading questions. See State v. Wacaser, 794 S.W.2d 190, 192-94 (Mo. Banc 1990); see also State v. Houston,803 S.W.2d 195, 197 (Mo. App. W.D. 1991).
Good lawyers explain these concepts to the jury and make sure everyone in the courtroom understands and is comfortable with monetary compensation to fully compensate injured people. If my great paralegal Casey works 40 hours for me in a week, it would not be fair for me to only pay her for 30 hours and say that I have a political view or a personal view that I should not fully pay her wages.
Let’s make no mistake about why the American public has these views against people who are injured, their lawyers, pain and suffering damages, and fighting for compensation for these injuries. Insurance companies and big corporations have spent millions (or billions) of dollars over the last 20 years – in commercials, newspapers, other marketing, political donations – to alter people’s opinions about injuries. It used to be that Americans fought and cared for the individual against insurance companies and big corporations. Now, because of billionaires, large corporations, and big insurance companies, people opinions have changed. This marketing continues everyday and insurance companies are right now trying to get prospective jurors to think that people who are injured shouldn’t get any money for their pain and suffering, which is ridiculous, against the law, and against American principles.
Gary Burger said to the jury on February 4, 2015 “I could not be more proud to be a plaintiff’s attorney representing this young man and his family than I am here today. I would not be anywhere else today.”