“Jury duty is a drag!” Granted that spending the day at the courthouse isn’t most people’s idea of a good time, serving on a jury is an important civic duty. When it’s your turn to serve, know that not only does justice depend on you, but we all depend on you: your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends and even your family will be impacted by the decisions you make.
When it comes to criminal court, your jury service could literally be making your community safer by getting a criminal off the streets. But what about for civil court? Why should you care about civil lawsuits?
Jurors in civil cases have the power to stop dangerous behavior.
The goal of a civil case is to put the plaintiff in the situation he or she would have been in had the injury not occurred; however, the result can be much more powerful.
When a jury reaches a verdict, it speaks with a single voice on behalf of everyone in the community. The jury’s verdict is an enforcement of the safety rules that protect us all. A plaintiff brings a lawsuit against a defendant, when that defendant has chosen to violate important safety rules. A defendant may feel that the rules don’t apply to him or her. A defendant may not care who is harmed by violating the safety rule. A defendant may not think that his or her choice to ignore a safety rule will cause harm to anyone.
The following is an example of how a jury verdict stops dangerous behavior and makes our community safer for our families and neighbors:
If someone is injured in a collision with an 18-wheeler, that injured person can sue the trucking company. The jury will be told about the safety rules that apply to the case, and the jury will be told what safety rules were violated. Perhaps the driver was ignoring the “hours of driving” safety rule. Perhaps, the trucking company was ignoring the “vehicle inspection” safety rules. Perhaps, the trucking company hired a driver who was unqualified, or had a long list of driving violations which demonstrated that he or she was unsafe behind the wheel. All of these safety rules are critical to making our roads safe to share with these big trucks. When a jury returns a verdict in favor of an injured plaintiff, the jury is affirming the importance of the safety rules and is enforcing the rules. The jury’s verdict tells the trucking company, and all other trucking companies how important the safety rule is, and that our community will not tolerate anyone who chooses to violate the rules.
Other defendants listen to what juries say about safety rules. We all know, conduct rewarded is conduct repeated.
In civil cases for personal injury, the injured party is seeking two things. First, the injured party is seeking to hold accountable those who choose to violate our important safety rules. When someone chooses to violate a safety rule, the person injured by that choice must be compensated for medical expenses, lost wages, physical pain, mental and emotional suffering. Second, and more importantly, the injured person represents everyone in our community who was put in danger by the careless choices the defendant made. The injured person seeks to have the jury enforce the safety rules, and – through the jury’s verdict – speak to everyone that the safety rules are important.
Jurors make our community safer for all of us.
While the way in which juries help to stop bad behavior cannot undo the harm done to the plaintiff already injured, it can and does prevent future injuries to others. Stopping and preventing dangerous behavior makes our world safer for all of us.
A 2012 survey found that 27% of U.S. adults said they had served on a jury. Many more, while not selected to sit on a jury, have shown up to serve. To those of you who have responded to the call for jury duty, thank you. While you may not be initially excited about jury duty, we hope if you are summoned in the future, you now appreciate how important your service will be to stop dangerous and selfish behavior, and to making our community safer for our children, families, and neighbors.
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Matthew G. Miller serves clients throughout Eastern Nebraska and parts of Western Iowa including Douglas County, Sarpy County, Lancaster County, and Pottawattamie County, as well as the cities of Omaha, Lincoln, Bellevue, Papillion, Fremont, Blair, Elkhorn, and Council Bluffs.