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If you’ve ever served as a juror, you may have been able to tell that the jury wasn’t told the whole story. The rules of court exclude some evidence that is irrelevant to the issues the jury is to decide – evidence that might otherwise prejudice the jury against a party who should otherwise win the case. The rules of court, when properly applied by an impartial and unbiased judge, most often operate as intended to insure a fair and just trial for both sides.
State legislators have enacted laws, however, that exclude other evidence that, in fairness, the jury ought to know. These laws are generally bought and paid for by powerful and monied lobbyists for big businesses, the health care industry, the insurance industry, or all three. For example, most defendants have liability insurance to cover the claim and nothing will be paid out of the defendant’s pocket or corporate accounts. Under a special law enacted by the insurance industry decades ago, jurors don’t get to know that the battle is really with an insurance company, not the little old lady, businessman, or company who happens to be the defendant. The jury also isn’t allowed to know how much money was offered to settle the case before it went to trial. This might be important information for a jury to know, if they want to ensure that they do justice. What’s more, the jury isn’t allowed to know what the result will be, after trial, depending on the amount they award. For example, under some rules, a verdict of tens of thousands of dollars in favor of a party can actually result in a verdict of tens of thousands of dollars against that party, instead, after the judge subtracts sums the jury isn’t told about. Moreover, the jury is never told that an injured party often has to forfeit much of any verdict to a health insurer, the federal government, or the state, under special laws. In short, the amount of money a jury awards a severely injured victim is quite often a far larger sum that the victim actually ends up taking home after all the rules and laws are applied after the verdict.
What they don’t tell the jury can turn a verdict that the jury thought was fair and just into a travesty of justice. So, when you serve as a juror, it is unlikely that you will be told the whole story. We just thought you should know.