Washington D.C. Jury Instructions for Negligence Part I
Continuing with our series on covering the Washington D.C. Jury Instructions, we’ll be going over roughly the first half of Chapter 5 today, which covers negligence.
Again, the judge’s “charge” to the jurors are the instructions.
The chapter begins by informing the jurors of the elements of a negligence claim.
After the plaintiff has alleged the defendant was negligent, he or she needs to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence (that each is more likely so than not), that (1) the defendant did not use ordinary care (2) the defendant’s failure to use ordinary care caused the harm and (3) the plaintiff is entitled to damages.
The question that follows is: what is negligence, and what is ordinary care?
Section 5.02 defines negligence and ordinary care, noting that a person is negligent when he or she does something that someone else using ordinary care would not do, or fails to do something that a person using ordinary care would do. Ordinary care is defined as the level of skill, caution, and attention that a reasonable person would use in similar circumstances.
A person has a legal duty to “avoid unreasonable risk”, not necessarily to avoid all risk of injury. Liability is imposed for the creation of unreasonable danger. Westinghouse Elec. Corp v. Nutt, 407 A.2d 606, 609-610 (D.C. 1979).
The next section covers how the jurors are to analyze the circumstances. They are told that a reasonable person will act more carefully if the situation is higher in risk or danger. How a person acts changes depending on the situation, but a person must use ordinary care to avoid an accident. The instructions read, “One who looks and does not see what is plainly there to be seen is as negligent as one who never looked at all.”
Further, as detailed in Section 5.04, “you are not bound to anticipate negligent conduct of others”. Stager v. Schneider, 494 A.2d 1307. The jurors are told that the plaintiff is right to assume that other people have normal abilities, intelligence, sight and hearing, unless it is glaringly obvious. A person does not have to act with exceptional skill or caution, because the law requires a person to use ordinary care. Failure to use exceptional skill does not equal negligence.
The last section that we’ll cover in today’s post is 5.06 – that there is to be no comparative negligence. Jurors are told that if they find more than one party was negligent, one person’s negligence must not be weighed against another’s. There are no degrees or grades or kinds of negligence to be considered.
In our next post, we’ll cover the rest of the Chapter 5 instructions.
If you’ve been injured in a car accident or were the victim of negligence, call the experienced and accredited attorneys at Cohen & Cohen today for a free case evaluation! We can help get you the compensation you deserve.