Rogers Law Blog

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Voir Dire: Picking a Jury May Win Your Personal Injury Lawsuit

If you have been injured in an automobile accident, trucking accident, eighteen wheeler accident, motorcycle accident, construction accident, work related accident, by a defective product, by an unsafe premises, or any accident caused by the negligence of another party, and your personal injury lawsuit does not settle, you and your attorney will most likely proceed to a jury trial.  Entire books have been written, lectures have been spoken, and law schools have been built on teaching the process and different stages of the jury trial, including voir dire.  Voir dire, the very first stage of a jury trial, may win or lose your personal injury lawsuit.

Voir Dire

Voir dire is latin and means "to speak the truth."  It is the first stage of a jury trial in which the attorneys are permitted to ask questions of the panel members (potential jurors) to determine who would or would not be a fair and just juror for the civil lawsuit.

The process typically begins early Monday morning on your trial date when a panel of citizens in your County arrives at the Courthouse for jury duty.  Most of these citizens are initially thinking of ways to get out of jury duty and get back to their lives as soon as possible.  However, many panel members and eventual jurors become quite interested in the process once they hear about the case because jury duty tends to provide a sense of importance and empowerment to many individuals  (it really is an important service to our free country). 

The Plaintiff's attorney is allowed to begin the voir dire process by introducing the parties to the panel members and providing basic information concerning the type of personal injury case, the liability allegations involving the case, and damages sought by the Plaintiff.  No evidence is introduced and no witnesses testify during the voir dire process.  The Plaintiff's attorney then asks questions of the panel members to attempt to discover any potential bias or prior life experience which would indicate that the panel member would not be fair and could not decide the case solely on the evidence presented during the trial.  For example, if a panel member stated "I do not think I could ever be fair in this case because I am married to the defendant's daughter," that panel member should probably not serve as a juror in the case (note: this is very easy example of bias, it can get much more difficult to determine who is or who is not biased or who could or could not be fair).

After the Plaintiff's attorney completes his questions, the Defendant's attorney has the opportunity to also question the panel members to determine any potential bias against the Defendant and to determine whether any panel members appear to be overly sympathetic to the injured Plaintiff.  For example, if a panel member says "I was also run over by a truck from the defendant's corporation, it made me very angry at the defendant, and I do not think I can set those feelings aside," such panel member will probably not make it to the jury panel (note: after trying many personal injury cases, you may not believe some of the life experiences you may hear from the panel that are extremely similar to your personal injury case).

Challenges for Cause

After the attorneys complete the questioning of the panel members, the attorneys are allowed to present to the Court challenges for cause in order to ask the Judge to strike from the panel each member that the attorney believes verbally expressed a bias such that the panel member stated he or she could not be fair to all parties and decide the case solely on the evidence.

The Judge typically listens to the questions by the attorneys and answers by panel members during voir dire in order to make fair rulings on the attorneys' challenges for cause.  The Judge's goal is to strike for cause any panel member challenged for cause by the attorney who verbally admits in open court that he or she has a bias or prior life experience such that he or she can not be fair to both parties and decide the personal injury case based solely on the evidence.

I have never tried a case in which the Judge did not strike for cause some of the panel members for verbally expressing a bias or prior life experience such that the person said he or should could not be fair to all parties.  The panel members who verbally expressed these feelings were, simply put, HONEST people.  If you are ever called to jury duty and you feel you have a bias or prior life experience such that you could not be fair to all parties, it is your legal and moral obligation to tell the Judge and attorneys (privately if necessary) so that the integrity of the jury system is maintained.  If you hide such information and it is later discovered, it could result in a mistrial and a waste of the Court's time and resources.  Please remember that expressing a personal bias or prior life experience in this process does not make you a bad person.  To the contrary, it makes you an honest person and one who maintains the integrity of the jury system. 

Peremptory Challenges

After the conclusion of the questions of the attorneys and answers of the panel members, each party is also allowed to strike a certain number of panel members for any non-discriminatory reason  (note: no panel member should ever be stricken for racial reasons or gender).  You and your attorney should be taking good notes and watching the panel members during the entire voir dire process for any signs (including body language, verbal statements, and non-verbal expressions) that would indicate any potential silent bias of the panel members to determine who to strike and therefore exclude from the jury panel.

In Texas District Courts, including Collin County, Dallas County, and Tarrant County, each party is allowed to strike 6 panel members with the peremptory challenges.  In Texas County Courts, each party is allowed to strike 3 panel members with the peremptory challenges.

After the Judge rules on challenges for cause, strikes jurors the Court believes expressed a bias, and the parties exercise their peremptory challenges, in Texas District Court, the first 12 remaining panel members become the jury panel.  In Texas County Courts, the first 6 remaining panel members become the jury panel. 

Winning Your Case During Voir Dire

Assuming that you have a legitimate personal injury lawsuit, and assuming that your attorney competently handles all other phases of the jury trial, many jury trials are won or lost during voir dire.  An experienced personal injury trial lawyer should not only possess the basic legal skills to handle the procedural aspects of the voir dire process and other stages of the trial, but also should possess a high level of social skills and knowledge of psychology to maximize your chances of having as many fair and just jurors on your jury panel and eliminating as many potentially biased jurors as possible.  Even the best personal injury trial attorneys sometimes miss a silent yet secretly biased panel member during voir dire; however, such risk can be drastically reduced if the right questions are asked during the voir dire process and the attorney uses the amount of care and time to process the background, answers, and details of each panel member.  A qualified and experienced personal injury trial lawyer maximizes your chance of receiving the just and fair compensation for your damages.  Such damages in a personal injury lawsuit may include medical bills, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, property damages, mental anguish, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, physical impairment, funeral expenses, and disfigurement. 

Whether you have been injured in a car accident, trucking accident, motorcycle accident, boating accident, swimming pool or resort accident, contruction or work related accident, by a defective product, a victim or abuse, a victim of assault due to negligent security on the premises, or any acciddent due to the negligent of another party or corporation, call Sheadyn R. Rogers of the Law Offices of Sheadyn R. Rogers, PC aka Rogers Law Firm at (361) 356-6057 today for a free case evaluation. 

Sheadyn R. Rogers is a Corpus Christi Tx personal injury trial lawyer who handles personal injury accident lawsuits throughout the Corpus Christi metroplex and South Texas.  Sheadyn R. Rogers is also Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

This is part 1 of a 4 part series on Texas Personal Injury Jury Trials.  Look for the other parts of the series in Blog Category Trials in Rogers Law Blog.

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Rogers Law Firm serves the following areas: Aransas County, Bee County, Brooks County, Duval County, Jim Wells County, Kenedy County, Kleberg County, Live Oak County, Nueces County, Refugio County, San Patricio County & the Corpus Christi TX Metroplex.

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