CHARLESTON—After more than five years of work, instructions that put complicated civil law topics into layman’s terms are in the hands of judges and lawyers in West Virginia.
Menis Ketchum, chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court, said that the pre-orders of the new Pattern Jury Instructions for civil cases have been shipped to everyone who ordered a copy, as well as distributed to every trial judge in the state.
“I've gotten a lot of calls back from the trial judges after they've looked at them, as well as from a lot of lawyers, and to a man, they think they’re all going to be very, very helpful in the trial of civil cases,” Ketchum told the West Virginia Record.
The instructions cover 15 different topics in civil law, and they make complex legal topics far more understandable for jurors who don’t have any experience in the law. At least two juries have already benefited from the pattern jury instructions.
“Judge (Jack) Alsop in Webster County, who helped me with the instructions, had a set, and he's used them in two jury trials that he's conducted,” Ketchum said.
Many other states have pattern jury instructions already, for both civil and criminal cases. The West Virginia pattern instructions, which cover civil cases, are going to be undergoing nearly constant revision, Ketchum said. Currently the pattern instructions include explanations of preliminary instructions to an impaneled jury; the complete closing general civil jury charge; employment law; product liability and warranty; medical negligence; evidence and witness regulations; tort of spoliation; punitive damages; motor vehicle law; deliberate intent; personal injury, wrongful death and property damage; negligence, comparative negligence and proximate cause; premises liability; contracts and eminent domain.
“I'm going to keep them updates with regard to changes in the law, plus the fact we are going to add more topics in the civil field to these books as we go on,” he said. “I expect that next year, there will be a supplement coming out with additional topics and the current instructions being updates with regard to changes in the law.”
Rory L. Perry, clerk of court for the West Virginia Supreme Court, praised the pattern jury instructions and the work it took to put them together. Lawyers and judges from around the state worked to ensure that the instructions were both legally accurate and simple to understand.
“I’m confident that the pattern jury instructions are going to assist lawyers and judges, and help the public understand the law that applies in civil cases when they’re called to perform jury service,” he told the West Virginia Record. “By using plain language that jurors can understand, they’ll be able to apply the law better.”
The pattern instructions, which come only in a hard copy, cost $95 for one set or $85 each for four or more sets. They are available by calling the State Law Library at 304-558-2697 or online at www.courtswv.gov.