Getting a California jury summons in the mail might leave you nervous and maybe feeling a bit of fear. Having to enter a California courtroom and cast a vote in a process you may not fully understand can be intimidating. In a civil case, you could be faced with a decision that changes the course of the lives of injured victims and their families.
The duty of jury members and the procedures they must follow will be a mystery to the uninitiated. Thankfully, court officers, including judges and attorneys, understand how difficult a task it is for inexperienced jurors to grasp what will be asked of them. So legal experts have partnered to create an easy-to-understand guide for jurors scheduled to hear civil cases.
The California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) is a regularly updated document that jurors can refer to as they prepare for jury duty and as they decide the important cases before them.
The Creation of the California Civil Jury Instructions
The task force on jury instructions was appointed by Chief Justice Ronald M. George in 1997. They set out to “write instructions that are legally accurate and understandable to the average juror.”
Their work was shaped by experts in each field of law the guide would cover. Then attorneys across the state were able to review the instructions before they were published. After six years of preparation and review, the first version of the CACI (pronounced Casey) was released.
Since then, The Judicial Council Advisory Committee updates the CACI each year reflecting changes in the law. The committee also works to improve passages of the guide that could benefit from a rewrite for clarity. It’s an evolving document that is reviewed to make sure it always provides the best and easiest means for jurors to understand their duties.
In the preface to the CACI, the job that jurors do is described this way:
“Jurors perform an invaluable service in our democracy, making important decisions that affect many aspects of our society. The Judicial Council instructions attempt to clarify the legal principles jurors must consider in reaching their decisions.”
This is a link to the most recent version of the document, the 2022 Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions.
What’s in the California Civil Jury Instructions?
It would be difficult for any one person to read through the entire California Civil Jury Instructions. It’s around 3,500 pages long.
Rather than provide a front-to-back read, the document is designed to give jurors an easily searchable document to find the topics that pertain to the cases they’ll hear. There are sections with instructions and explainers on every type of civil case including cases involving car accidents, medical malpractice, product liability, and wrongful termination.
Jurors can easily jump to the sections that apply to the case they are serving on. They are also able to look up the basics of what they’ll face during pre-trial. CACI Section 100. Preliminary Admonitions lists the instructions the jury will get from a judge. It even covers how jurors should take notes and makes clear that those notes cannot be taken home.
CACI Section 101. explains the structure of the trial. This includes instructions on how to view an opening statement. An opening statement is not evidence. The guide goes over how this statement is simply an outline for the benefit of jurors to show what each party expects the evidence will demonstrate.
Jurors and Individual Bias
CACI Section 113. states simple human nature in that every juror will bring their own biases into a trial. These prejudices can be those that jurors acknowledge in themselves and some that jurors may have previously been unaware of.
Jurors will need to reflect on their own biases and do their very best to set those aside while considering the facts of a case.
Section 113 states this difficult but incredibly important juror responsibility:
“As jurors you are being asked to make very important decisions in this case. You must not let bias, prejudice, or public opinion influence your decision. You must not be biased in favor of or against parties or witnesses because of their disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, national origin, [or] socioeconomic status[, or [insert any other impermissible form of bias]].” Revised May 2022
Considering Evidence as a California Juror
How jurors should weigh the evidence presented in a trial is discussed in several places in the California Civil Jury Instructions.
CACI Section 200. begins with instructions on the differences between a criminal trial and a civil trial.
In a criminal trial, it’s up to the prosecution to prove that the defendant is “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” But in a civil trial, the burden of proof changes. The party that is attempting to prove something must only prove that it is “more likely true than not true.” The burden of proof isn’t as high in a civil trial.
This is a critical distinction for jurors to understand. In some cases, jurors will be voting in favor of the plaintiff (the party seeking damages) even when the evidence doesn’t 100% prove the guilt of the defendant.
CACI Section 107. helps jurors determine how to weigh witness testimony. How testimony from witnesses who were closer to the scene and further away should be considered. It’s also pointed out that any potential motive for a witness to testify one way or another must be factored in.
Guide to California Personal Injury Negligence
Personal injury cases are a type of civil case. These cases involve someone’s carelessness causing someone else to become injured. The key legal concept of “standard of care” plays into California personal injury cases when deciding negligence and whether a guilty party owes a victim compensation.
Standard of Care means people have a legal duty to protect other people from harm while performing actions that could endanger someone. They must act with the care a reasonable person would show when trying to prevent an accident and injury.
A driver must proceed cautiously around motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists so they don’t cause a car accident.
Business owners must protect their customers or clients from harm while guests are visiting their stores or offices. Leaving a spill on a floor for someone to slip and fall on could make property owners or proprietors liable. Landlords are required to keep their tenants out of harm’s way by inspecting for hazards on residential properties and removing them.
When an individual or party violates the “standard of care,” they are guilty of negligence and can be held financially liable for the damages and harm they cause to others.
Jurors must have a clear understanding of what constitutes negligence because they’ll be deciding if defendants truly behaved negligently. They’ll determine if injured victims were careless and caused their own injuries, or if a reckless act by someone else is to blame.
CACI No. 401. explains negligence as:
“Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others. A person can be negligent by acting or by failing to act. A person is negligent if that person does something that a reasonably careful person would not do in the same situation or fails to do something that a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation. You must decide how a reasonably careful person would have acted in [name of plaintiff/defendant]’s situation.” Revised May 2020
Negligence can apply to nursing home abuse, giving alcohol to minors, dog bites, and many other types of personal injury cases.
Comparative Negligence in California Civil Cases
The section on negligence also goes over California’s “comparative negligence” in CACI Section 405. Comparative negligence means that several parties may share a percentage of the blame in an accident. Jurors should refer to this passage when hearing a complex personal injury case.
For instance, in a multi-car pile-up on a California Freeway, several drivers may have made reckless moves that caused the many collisions involved. A jury member would have to weigh just how much liability each driver should bear. It’s a critical decision because injured victims seeking help with recovery costs could have their award reduced based on the percentage of blame they are assigned.
A driver might be found 25% to blame for a crash. The driver could still seek recovery support from the car insurance providers of the other drivers, but 25% would be subtracted from the compensation the victim received.
California Jurors Hearing California Traffic Accident Cases
CACI Section 700. deals specifically with car accident injury cases. The guidelines for jurors start with the specific standard of care expected from all California motorists:
“A person must use reasonable care in driving a vehicle. Drivers must keep a lookout for pedestrians, obstacles, and other vehicles. They must also control the speed and movement of their vehicles. The failure to use reasonable care in driving a vehicle is negligence.”
Section 700 lists many of the California Vehicle Codes that will inform jurors on how a case involving a traffic collision should be decided. They cover the right-of-way in situations like intersections and left turns. They instruct jurors on how speed limits should factor into car accident verdicts.
CACI Section 709. covers accidents involving drunk drivers. It states that just because a driver used alcohol or drugs doesn’t necessarily make them negligent in a car accident. Jurors will have to keep things like this in mind as they determine who was to blame for a crash.
Other Topics Reviewed in California Civil Jury Instructions
The CACI attempts to cover every type of civil case that a juror might encounter when called into duty. The California Judicial Council never wants to leave jury members without the resources they need to understand their duties. Each entry in the CACI is meant to help jurors understand the factors that should guide their decisions in a jury deliberation room.
In the second part of the CACI, The Family Leave Act is covered. The section gives jurors instructions on how to determine if an employer has violated labor laws and employee rights.
Jurors will also find guidelines for determining cases involving business law. Unfair practices laws violations or anti-trust law violations are covered. Real estate law and the Fair Employment and Housing Act are explained.
Each section begins with a plain-English description of what the juror should consider in each case and basic definitions of the terms that will be heard often in these sorts of civil proceedings. Jurors should utilize this helpful guide as a starting point for the knowledge they’ll need to perform their jury duty. Then, they should always ask questions when they encounter something during a trial they don’t understand.
Contact a California Personal Injury Lawyer
If you find yourself the victim of an act of negligence, please speak with a skilled California Personal Injury Lawyer. Maison Law also practices labor law and moves to protect the victims of harassment or wrongful terminations.
We offer a free case consultation to all California victims of car accidents, workplace accidents, slip-and-falls, dog bites, and other incidents. Contact us to set up a case review. It’s a no-risk way to determine if you have a case and how much your injury claim may be worth. Maison Law wants to provide a voice to every injured victim who must take on an insurance company or corporate lawyers simply to get fair compensation.