Jury instructions are an often overlooked but incredibly important part of the trial process. The instruction that a jury receives helps them understand and evaluate the case, and make a determination about the ultimate issues. Jury instructions can be crafted in a certain way to help tell a party’s story in the jury room, or to include (or omit) certain key details. For all of these reasons, when courts improperly include or exclude certain jury instructions, this is an issue that is often ripe for appeal.
In this Georgia car accident case, A.A. and L.M. were driving in different directions down a two-lane road. As they approached each other, A.A.’s vehicle drifted across the center line and ran into L.M.’s vehicle, causing significant injuries. L.M. sued A.A. for negligence and negligence per se. L.M. established that A.A. had violated Georgia state statutes when his vehicle crossed the center line, which constituted negligence per se. The burden then shifted to A.A. to provide a defense for his actions.
A.A. presented evidence at trial that his steering column was defective and that his auto mechanic had installed the defective steering column a few days earlier. A.A. testified he had no knowledge of the defect until he lost control of his ability to steer on the day of the accident and ran into L.M.’s car. A.A. then asked for a jury instruction, explaining that in order for A.A. to be held liable for the damages incurred as a result of this defective condition, he had to have knowledge of the defective condition. The trial court explained to A.A.’s counsel that he could certainly make this argument to the jury, but the jury instruction would not be included because it was more than what was necessary. The jury ultimately awarded L.M. $30 million in damages. A.A. appealed.