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Jury Selection Strategies for Car Accident Cases

In-depth list of model voir dire, with use notes and practice tips.

By Susan Broome, Ph.D.

Pattern Voir Dire Questions

Excerpted from Pattern Voir Dire Questions

Decisions about liability in personal injury lawsuits are influenced by juror attitudes toward responsibility; decisions about damages are influenced by their attitudes toward tort reform. While the explicit focus of an injury lawsuit may be the conduct of a particular defendant, jurors tend to view the case more broadly. They consider whether the plaintiff should bear some responsibility for the condition that is the basis of the suit. They also consider parties who are not named and defendants who have settled.

Identification with one of the parties can have a powerful influence over the attribution of responsibility. Sometimes it outweighs all other considerations. A juror may identify with one of the parties on the basis of a perceived commonality, such as similarity in experience, social status or ethnicity. Identification may lead to empathy, rejection or denial. If a juror’s experience allows him to understand one of the parties, the juror will be favorably disposed toward that party. If, however, the juror is bitter about his experience, he may react negatively to that party. The juror may not award damages to a plaintiff if he was not compensated for his suffering in a similar suit. Jurors may also respond to similarity with denial if their sense of security and well being is threatened by an issue in the case.

III. CASE-SPECIFIC PATTERN VOIR DIRE QUESTIONS – MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENTS

Use Note: Use these voir dire questions in conjunction with Common Questions – Civil Cases (Chapter 2) and Questions Common to All Injury Cases (§§3:01-3:11).

1. Case-Related Knowledge, Training and Experience

§3:15 Driving Experience and Training

Use Note: Since most people drive, and those who don’t have ridden as a passenger in a car, jurors will have preconceived notions about collisions. Ask about driving experience and impressions of other drivers to gain insight into how the juror will view the parties in your case.

Do you drive?

If no:

  • Why not? (Probe: Do you know how to drive? Have you taken a driver’s education course? Do you have a driver’s license? Has your license been suspended or revoked? Are you afraid to drive?)

If yes:

  • How long have you driven?
  • How much do you drive?
  • Do you drive on the highway, in the city, or both?
  • How would you describe yourself as a driver?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses as a driver? (Probe re: conditions at issue in the lawsuit.)
  • Are you generally a pretty confident driver or does driving make you nervous?
  • Are you generally confident driving when the weather is bad, or does driving in bad weather make you nervous?
  • Does driving at night make you nervous?
  • Do you consider yourself a safety conscious driver? Why do you say that?
  • Have you ever taken a driver’s education course? When?
  • Have you ever had your driver’s license taken away?
  • What were the circumstances?
  • When?
  • How did you feel about it when it happened?
  • How do you feel about it now?

How would you describe drivers on the road?

  • Are most drivers cautious or not cautious? Why do you say that?
  • Are most people good drivers? Why do you say that?

Are you familiar with the location of the accident?

  • What are your impressions of the area?
  • Have you ever driven in that area?
  • Have you ever driven through that area [in conditions like those in this suit, e.g., at sunset, in a storm, at night, etc.]?

Have you ever worked in an auto repair shop or an auto body shop?

  • What was your job?
  • What were your responsibilities?
  • When did you work in this field?
  • How long did you work in this field?
  • How will that experience influence your decision-making in this case?

Do you know of any agencies that set standards for automobile safety?

  • What agencies do you know of?
  • How do you know about this agency?
  • What are your impressions of this agency?
  • What do you think this agency does?
  • Do you think it is too strict, too lenient, or about right?

Do you drive or have you ever driven for a living?

Use Note: Ask this question and the follow-up questions if your case involves a commercial vehicle.

  • What kind of driving do/did you do?
  • Were you ever involved in a collision while on the job?
  • What happened?
  • Was there an investigation?
  • Was a police report filed?
  • Was a lawsuit filed?
  • Were there job consequences for you?
  • Was there any determination as to who was at fault?

Has anyone close to you ever been a driver for a living?

Use Note: Does the potential juror have special knowledge about professional driving because someone close to him has shared his or her knowledge? Has that person shared information with the juror that would influence how the juror will see the case? This is the rationale for all questions that ask about people close to the juror. Weigh second-hand knowledge less heavily than first-hand experience. If someone close to the juror drove for a living, determine the relationship of that person to the juror and how much that person talked about his or her experience.Then ask follow-up questions about the experience.

  • What is the relationship of that person to you?
  • How long have you known that person?
  • How well do you know him?
  • What kind of driving does/did he do?
  • Was he ever involved in a collision on the job?
  • What happened?
  • Was there an investigation?
  • Was a police report filed?
  • Was a lawsuit filed?
  • Were there job consequences?
  • Have you ever talked to this person about the job of driving?
  • How will knowing this person influence your decision-making in this case?

Use Note: If your case involves a young or inexperienced driver, ask the following set of questions:

How important are drivers’ education classes in learning how to drive?

  • Why do you think that?

How important is driving experience as a factor in being a good driver?

  • Why do you think that?

Some people say that drivers who lack experience are not as good as drivers with lots of driving experience. Other people say that younger drivers make up for a lack of experience with quicker reaction time. What do you think?

Use Note: If your case involves an older driver, ask the following set of questions:

Some people feel that older drivers are not safe drivers because they take longer to react to things that happen on the road than younger drivers. Other people think that an older person’s years of driving experience make up for a slower reaction time. What do you think?

Should states set limits on older drivers like they do on younger drivers?

  • Why or why not?

Some states are considering retesting drivers after a certain age. How do you feel about that idea? (Probe: Do you think it is a good idea or a bad idea?)

  • Why do you think that?

Use Note: If your case involves allegations of dangerous road conditions (e.g., guard rails, construction), ask the following set of questions:

Have you ever been involved in an accident because of the road conditions in an area?

  • Were you driving?
  • What happened? (Probe the role of road conditions in the accident.)
  • Was anyone injured?
  • Who was injured?
  • What is the relationship of the injured person to you?
  • When did it happen?
  • Who was at fault?
  • Why do you say that?
  • Were the drivers equally at fault?
  • Do you think both parties are always at fault in a collision?
  • Was someone ticketed? Which driver?
  • Did someone sue? Who?
  • If not, why not?
  • What was the outcome of the suit?
  • What did you think about the outcome?
  • Do you feel that you were [the driver was] adequately compensated?
  • How did you feel about being a party in the lawsuit?
  • How do you think that experience will affect your decision-making in this case?

Has your vehicle ever been damaged because of the road conditions in an area?

  • What kind of damage was sustained?

Do you drive differently in areas where you see construction cones or barrels?

  • Why or why not?
  • If yes, how does your driving differ?

Use Note: If your case involves drugs or alcohol, see Chapter 15, Motor Vehicle Crimes, §15:11, et seq.

§3:16 Knowledge and Experience With Collisions

Use Note: Use these questions to find out if jurors are predisposed toward or against yourcase because of their past experiences and to identify potential collision “experts.”

Have you ever been involved in an automobile accident?

  • Were you driving?
  • What happened?
  • Was anyone injured?
  • Who was injured?
  • What is the relationship of the injured person to you?
  • When did it happen?
  • Who was at fault?
  • Why do you say that?
  • Were the drivers equally at fault?
  • Do you think both parties are always at fault in a collision?
  • Was someone ticketed? Which driver?
  • Did someone sue? Who?
  • If not, why not?
  • What was the outcome of the suit?
  • What did you think about the outcome?
  • Do you feel that you were [the driver was] adequately compensated?
  • How did you feel about being a party in the lawsuit?
  • How do you think that experience will affect your decision-making in this case?

Have you ever been involved in a motor vehicle accident [similar to the one in this case]?

Use Note: Ask specifically about the type of accident in suit. Was it a low-impact collision; did one party fail to obey the rules of the road (e.g., run a red light); was a pedestrian, a bicycle, or a motorcycle involved; did poor road conditions (e.g., lack of a guardrail, construction debris) contribute to the accident? It is especially important to find out if jurors were involved in a similar accident, and they may need aspecific question to prompt them to remember.

Has anyone close to you ever been involved in an automobile accident?

  • What is the relationship of that person to you?
  • How long have you known this person?
  • How well do you know him?
  • Did he talk to you about the accident? What did he say?

 

  • What happened?
  • When did the accident happen?
  • Was anyone injured?
  • Do you have an opinion about who was at fault in this accident?
  • Why do you say that?
  • Was someone ticketed? Which driver?
  • Did someone sue?
  • What was the outcome of the suit?
  • What did you think about the outcome?
  • Do you feel that the injured party was fairly compensated?
  • How did [person close to juror] feel about the lawsuit?
  • How do you think this person’s experience will affect your decision-making in this case?

 

Has anyone close to you ever been involved in a motor vehicle accident [similar to the one in this case]?

Use Note: Ask specifically about the type of accident in suit. Follow up with questions about the details of the accident and its aftermath (see above) to learn how the prospective juror feels about this other person’s experience.

Have you ever witnessed an automobile accident?

  • What happened?
  • Who was at fault?
  • What injuries were suffered?
  • Who was injured?
  • When did it happen?
  • Was someone ticketed?
  • Did anyone sue?
  • Were you involved in the lawsuit in any way?
  • How did you feel about the outcome?
  • How do you feel about the outcome now?
  • Why have your feelings changed?
  • How do you think this experience will affect your decision-making in this case?

Have you ever witnessed a motor vehicle accident [similar to the one in this case (e.g., low-impact accident, failure to obey the rules of the road accident, or an accident involving a pedestrian)?

  • Follow up with the same questions as above.

Has anyone close to you ever witnessed an automobile accident?

  • What is the relationship of that person to you?
  • How long have you known this person?
  • How well do you know him?
  • Did he talk to you about the accident? What did he say?
  • Who was at fault?
  • What injuries were suffered?
  • When did this happen?
  • Was someone ticketed?
  • Did anyone sue?
  • Was he involved in the lawsuit in any way?
  • How did he feel about the outcome?
  • How do you think this person’s experience will affect your decision-making in this case?

Has anyone close to you ever witnessed a motor vehicle accident [similar to the one involved in this case]?

  • What is the relationship of that person to you?
  • How long have you known this person?
  • How well do you know him?
  • Did he talk to you about the accident? What did he say?
  • Follow up with additional questions about the details of the accident and its aftermath (injuries, litigation, etc.) to learn how the prospective juror feels about this other person’s experience.

§3:17 Knowledge and Experience With Accident-Related Insurance Claims

Use Note: Use these questions to identify jurors who may become perceived experts on insurance claims. Listen carefully to the prospective jurors’ answers. You may want to try to have jurors who answer “yes”to either of the first two questions below excused for cause.

Are you, or is any member of your family or close circle of friends, an employee, representative, officer or director of an insurance company?

  • If yes, please explain.

Do you, or does a family member, have a financial interest in an insurance company?

  • If yes, please explain.

Have you, or has any member of your family, ever filed a claim with an insurance company?

  • What type of claim was it?
  • How was it resolved?
  • Were you/they satisfied with the way the claim was handled?
  • If you/they were not satisfied, did you/they file a lawsuit?
  • What was the outcome of the suit?
  • Were you/they satisfied with the outcome?
  • If you/they did not file a lawsuit, did you/they consider filing a lawsuit?
  • Why did you/they decide against filing?
  • How would that experience impact your decision-making in this case?

Have you, or has a family member, ever not received payment for an insurance claim?

  • What type of claim was it?
  • What reason was given for nonpayment of the claim?
  • How do you feel about what happened?
  • How would that experience impact your decision-making in this case?

Have you, or has a family member, ever received a collection letter or overdue notice for a medical bill that your insurance company was supposed to pay?

  • What did you do about it?
  • Did the insurance company ultimately pay the bill? If not, why not?
  • How do you feel about what happened?
  • How would that experience impact your decision-making in this case?

How do you feel about an injured person making a claim in court for insurance benefits?

  • Is it an acceptable or not acceptable use of the court system?

Some people are afraid that damage awards in cases like this will affect them in the form of increased insurance costs. Do you think that awarding money to the plaintiff in a case like this will result in higher insurance costs?

  • Why do you think that?

If you were injured in an automobile accident and your insurance company failed to pay your medical bills or lost wages, would you be unable or unwilling to bring a lawsuit for recovery of those benefits?

  • Why or why not?

2. Attitudes Toward the Parties

Use Note: Ask these questions to identify jurors who may start out predisposed in favor of or against one or the other party.

How do you feel about people who bring a lawsuit because they were injured in a motor vehicle accident [similar to the one at issue in the case, e.g., a low-impact accident, an accident in which one party failed to obey the rules of the road accident; an accident involving a pedestrian, etc.]?

  • Why do you feel that way?
  • If you were injured in an automobile collision, would you sue?
  • Why or why not?

How do you feel about people [or “corporations” or other entities similar to the defendant in the suit, if appropriate] who are sued by someone who was injured in a motor vehicle accident [similar to the one at issue in the case, e.g., a low-impact accident, an accident in which one party failed to obey the rules of the road accident; an accident involving a pedestrian, etc.]?

  • Why do you feel that way?

What do you think about “soft tissue’’ injuries like whiplash?

  • Why do you say that?
  • Some people think these injuries are real, while other people think this type of injury is made up by the plaintiff. What do you think? Why do you think that?
  • Some people think if a vehicle is not damaged very much, then the person inside cannot be badly hurt. Other people think that even if a vehicle is not damaged very much, the person inside can be badly hurt. What do you think? Why do you think that?

Use Note: Ask the following set of questions if the defendant is a corporation or other entity.

What are your general feelings about the defendant’s field?

  • What is your general impression of the field?
  • How socially responsible is the field?
  • How do employers in this field of work treat their employees?
  • Why do you feel that way?

What are your general feelings about the defendant?

  • How competent is the defendant?
  • How honest is the defendant?
  • What motivates the defendant?
  • Why do you feel that way?
  • Have you had a particular experience that makes you feel that way?

3. The Law

§3:18 Legal Issues

Use Note: Use these questions to evaluate jurors’ preconceived notions of the law and to educate them about the applicable law.

When ________ [generally describe the facts surrounding the accident in your case, e.g., one car hits another from the rear; a car and a pedestrian collide] who is more likely to be at fault?

  • Why do you say that?
  • Is that party always at fault? Why or why not?
  • Does one person have more control over the situation than the other?
  • Why do you think that?
  • Can you think of circumstances that might reduce the degree of fault? (Probe regarding the circumstances in the suit.)

Some people strictly abide by the rules and other people feel that rules are made to be broken. How do you feel? In general, which side do you come down on?

  • Do you ever break the rules?
  • Give me some examples of when you might break the rules.

[Provide jurors with the definition of liability used by the court.] Would you have a problem accepting that definition for purposes of this trial?

  • Why or why not?

§3:19 Experience With a Similar Case

Use Note: Ask these questions to identify potential “experts” on the legal aspects of the case.

Have you ever been involved in a lawsuit related to a motor vehicle accident?

  • What was your role?
  • What happened? What was the outcome?
  • How satisfied were you with the outcome?
  • How will that experience affect your decision-making in this case?
  • Ask these same questions regarding anyone close to the juror.

Have you, or has anyone close to you, ever served on a jury that heard a motor vehicle accident case?

  • What is the relationship of that person to you?
  • How long have you known him?
  • How well do you know him?
  • When did you/he serve?
  • Were you [was he] foreperson for the jury?
  • Tell me about the case.
  • What was the outcome?
  • Were you [was he] satisfied with the outcome of the case?
  • How do you feel about it now?
  • How will that experience affect your view of this case?

§3:20 Accident Reconstruction Testimony

Use Note: These questions introduce jurors to the experts and the type of testimony they will provide.

In this case, you will hear testimony from an “accident reconstructionist.” Has anyone ever heard of “accident reconstruction”?

  • Do you believe that you can look at pictures of a car and determine how fast it was going?
  • Can you look at a picture and determine whether someone was injured?
  • Can you look at a picture and determine the extent of a person’s injuries?
  • Do any of you know of people involved in horrible crashes who walked away without a scratch?
  • Do any of you know of people injured in cars where it looks like there was no damage whatsoever to the cars?

Is anyone familiar with the term “junk science”?

  • How do you feel about “junk science”?
  • Is it something we should depend on to make important decisions?
  • Is it something we should rely upon to resolve the issues in this case?

4. Damages – Soft Tissue Injuries

Use Note: These questions reveal what jurors are willing to award for soft tissue injuries.Remember to use these questions in conjunction with the damages questions in Chapter 2, Common Questions – Civil Cases.

§3:21 Neck and Back Injuries

What comes to mind when you hear the word “whiplash”?

  • Some people think “whiplash” is a real medical condition, while other people think it is not. What do you think? Why do you think that?
  • If a medical doctor told you that “whiplash” is a term that encompasses injuries to the soft tissues – the muscles, ligaments, and tendons – in the neck, as opposed to a “hard” injury to a bone, would you be more inclined to believe that the injury is real?
  • What if a chiropractor said the same thing? Would you be more or less inclined to believe the injury is real?
  • Have you ever suffered a “soft tissue” injury? (Probe: Have you ever pulled a muscle or sprained your ankle?)
  • Some people think that a person claiming “whiplash” is just looking to make some easy money. What do you think? Why?

Does an injury have to be visible to the naked eye or appear on an x-ray (or other image) to be real?

  • Why [not]?
  • If you cannot see the injury, how can you tell if a person is, in fact, injured?
  • What signs might you look for?

Some people think that a low-speed, low-impact accident cannot possibly cause an injury to people in the car.

  • Do you agree or disagree?
  • Why do you feel that way?

Can a person be injured in a collision with no damage or little damage to the vehicle? (Probe: details of accident.)

  • What do you think about someone bringing a claim for an injury when there is little or no property damage?

Do you live with pain on a daily basis?

  • What type of pain do you suffer from?
  • What do you do to relieve the pain?
  • Does your pain come and go?
  • Did you change your daily activities because of this pain?

Do you suffer with neck or back pain?

  • What type of pain do you suffer from?
  • What do you do to relieve the pain?
  • Does your pain come and go?
  • Did you change your daily activities because of this pain?

Use Note: If the plaintiff was treated by a chiropractor, also ask the following set of questions:

How do you feel about chiropractors?

  • Are chiropractors the same as or different from other kinds of doctors?
  • Why do you say that?

Some people say that they would never consult a chiropractor no matter what their condition.

  • Would you consider seeing a chiropractor?
  • Why or why not?

Have you (or has anyone close to you) ever been treated by a chiropractor?

  • When?
  • What circumstances brought you/him/her to the chiropractor?
  • How long did you/he/she treat with the chiropractor?
  • What was the outcome of your/his/her treatment?
  • Were you/he/she satisfied?
  • Would you/he/she see a chiropractor for treatment again?

§3:22 Brain Injuries

Does the fact that this is a “soft tissue case” bring to mind any opinions, feelings or concerns you have?

  • How do you feel about soft tissues cases?
  • Do any of you know anyone that has suffered a soft tissue injury?
  • Would it make any difference to your feelings about this case if I told you the soft tissue that was injured in the crash is the plaintiff’s brain?

Do you know anything about brain injury?

  • What do you know about brain injury?
  • What are the symptoms of brain injury?
  • Is a significant impact to the head necessary to cause brain injury?
  • Have any of you heard of “shaken baby syndrome” where a child’s brain may be seriously damaged by shaking, without a blow to the head?
  • Is brain injury only evidenced by a loss of consciousness?
  • How should someone with a brain injury look?
  • How should someone with a brain injury act?

Are you familiar with the term “cognitive impairment,” or “thinking difficulties”?

  • Do you know anyone who suffers from such conditions?
  • Have you had any experience with the treatment of these conditions?

Are you familiar with the term “memory deficit”?

  • Do you know anyone who suffers from this condition?
  • Have you had any experience with the treatment of this condition?

Are you familiar with the term “depression”?

  • Do you know anyone who suffers from such conditions?
  • Have you had any experience with the treatment of these conditions?

Are you familiar with the term “anxiety”?

  • Do you know anyone who suffers from such conditions?
  • Have you had any experience with the treatment of these conditions?

Are you familiar with the term “panic attacks”?

  • Do you know anyone who suffers from such conditions?
  • Have you had any experience with the treatment of these conditions?

Are you familiar with the term “pseudo-dementia”?

  • Do you know anyone who suffers from such conditions?
  • Have you had any experience with the treatment of these conditions?

Are you familiar with the term “severe dementia”?

  • Do you know anyone who suffers from such conditions?
  • Have you had any experience with the treatment of these conditions?

Can brain injury cause depression, anxiety, irritability, or mood swings?

  • Why or why not?


Susan Broome, Ph.D., has been working with trial lawyers for more than 20 years. She was trained at Litigation Sciences, Inc., and was one of two consultants to open its Boston office.

Presently, in addition to assisting trial lawyers and witnesses at her ownfirm in Boston, she is an anchor for Los Angeles based Leggett Jury Research’s East Coast cases. Dr. Broome has appeared on Arthur Miller’s In Context for a session devoted to jury selection. She is a member of the American Society of Trial Consultants.

Dr. Broome holds a B.A. from Columbia University, an M.A. from Tufts University, and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Clark University.

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