CHARLESTON – For five years, West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Menis Ketchum has been working on a project to make jury instructions easier for a lay jury to understand.
Now, his compilation of Pattern Jury Instructions for use in civil cases in West Virginia courts is for sale through the Supreme Court’s law library.
“The importance of pattern instructions is two-fold,” Ketchum said. “Right now, the lawyers and judges have to prepare their own instructions for each civil trial. And because of that, the instructions end up many times being incorrect because they are hastily prepared. Either that, or that are written in legal jargon that juries can’t understand.
“It’s important that the judges and lawyers have access to legally correct instructions that a lay jury can understand.”
Ketchum, who spent more than 40 years as a trial lawyer before being elected to the Supreme Court in 2008, said busy lawyers often don’t have enough time to craft jury instructions in plain language.
“And, honestly, most other states that have had pattern jury instructions for decades,” he said. “These instructions are just the beginning to ty to catch West Virginia up with the federal judiciary and most other states.”
Ketchum said he hopes the present set covering 15 topics can be expanded in the future.
“We need to have pattern instructions in criminal trials and several other topics in civil trials,” Ketchum said. “What triggered me to do this is that I saw substandard work by lawyers on jury instructions. They worried about technicalities rather than the instructions being understandable.”
The instructions have been researched and have gone through numerous revisions. Judge Jack Alsop of the 14th Circuit (Braxton, Clay, Gilmer and Webster counties) was the supervising circuit judge on this project. Each of 15 topics was prepared by Ketchum or lawyers who acted as reporters on the project. In addition, at least two lawyers reviewed each topic for accuracy.
The 15 topics covered in the pattern instructions are Preliminary Instructions to the Impaneled Jury; Complete Closing General Civil Jury Charge; Employment Law; Product Liability and Warranty; Medical Negligence; Motor Vehicles; Deliberate Intent; Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, and Property Damage; Negligence, Comparative Negligence, and Proximate Cause; Premises Liability; Contracts; Eminent Domain; Evidence and Witnesses; Tort of Spoliation; and Punitive Damages.
Alsop said he appreciated the opportunity to serve on the project and all the hard work of the lawyers who assisted in drafting the instructions. He said he thinks the pattern plain language instructions will be of great benefit to the trial bar and provide great assistance to our lay juries.
The reporters, in addition to Ketchum, were Walt Auvil, David Morrison, Paul Frampton, Philip Combs, Tom Hurney, Paul Farrell Jr., Victor Woods, Maryl Sattler, John Barrett, Alan Karlin, Carte Goodwin, Johnny Knisely, Bert Ketchum, Henry Jernigan and Brian R. Cokeley.
The reviewers for accuracy, in addition to Alsop and Ketchum, were Susan Brewer, Alex Shook, Deborah L. McHenry, Pamela D. Tarr, Tom McQuain, Don Sensabaugh, John Cyrus, Carter Elkins, Mark Farrell, James P. McHugh, Tim DiPiero, Johnny Brown, Peter Chambers, James R. Bailes, Bridget Cohee, Anthony Delligatti, Benny Jones and Kevin Robinson.
The instructions are available only in a durable hard copy D-ring binder and are not published on the West Virginia Supreme Court’s website. The court is charging for copies to recoup the cost of the project. Advance orders are being taken now.
Copies are $85 for each set or $75 each for four or more sets ordered before May 15 when the price changes to $95 or $85 for four or more sets. Pre-orders will be shipped in June.
To purchase copies of the instructions, call the State Law Library at 304-340-3980, or order online at http://www.courtswv.gov/legal-community/patternJuryInstructions/index.html.