Combining Pattern Instructions

Posted Monday, June 26, 2017 by Ed Harper

When submitting economic and noneconomic damage instructions in a personal injury case, the jury instruction can include multiple jury instructions compiled together making it easier for the court to articulate these instructions.

Washington Pattern Instruction 30.04 is one such instruction regarding noneconomic damages. This instruction states the following:

“In addition you [the jury] should consider the following noneconomic damages elements:1. The nature and extent of the injuries; and2. The disability experienced and with reasonable probability to be experienced in the future; and3. The loss of enjoyment of life experienced, and with reasonable probability to be experienced in the future; and4. The pain-and-suffering experienced, and with reasonable probability to be experienced, in the future.

The burden of proving damages rests upon the plaintiff. It is for you to determine, based upon the evidence, whether any particular element has been proved by a preponderance of the evidence. Your award must be based upon evidence and not upon speculation, guess, or conjecture.”

The law has not furnished us with any fixed standards by which to measure noneconomic damages. With reference to these matters you must be governed by your own judgment, by the evidence in the case, and by these instructions.

Recently, with Co-Counsel, we obtained a jury verdict well over $1.3 million. The case is Lawrence v. Trugreen, a case that went up on appeal and an unpublished opinion by Justice Leach on January 7, 2013 upheld this verdict. One of the issues in this case was the damage instruction for noneconomic damages.

Briefly, however, the facts were somewhat typical for a rear end motor vehicle collision injuring plaintiff, Rebecca Lawrence. The Plaintiff sustained serious neck and back injuries from the rear end automobile collision. The Defendant, Trugreen Inc., admitted liability for these injuries proximately caused by the collision and the case proceeded to trial on causation and damage issues only. On June 27, 2007, a Trugreen truck driven by its employee, rear-ended Rebecca Lawrence’s car. Multiple procedures were received by Ms. Lawrence including the implant of a spinal cord stimulator in her back.

Plaintiff Lawrence sued Trugreen and the driver. Before trial Trugreen admitted fault and went to trial on the issues of causation and damages. While Trugreen acknowledged that the collision could have caused Lawrence’s continuing neck pain, Trugreen maintained that it did not cause Lawrence’s lower back pain, which led to the spinal surgeries. One issues for the appellate court was the trial court’s instruction on the measure of damages. Trugreen claimed the court erred by “instructing the jury to consider the single quote nature and extent’ of the injuries as a separate line of damages on the verdict form…Trugreen claims the single ‘nature and extent’ clause instructed the jury to award Lawrence a recovery for the injury itself in addition to recovering for all of the elements of damages. We disagree.”

The appellate court determined that the trial court did not instruct the jury to find the “nature and extent” of Lawrence’s injuries as an itemized line of damages on the verdict form. “The jury instruction - regarding noneconomic damages - that the jury should consider the nature and extent of injuries as only one of the multiple elements of any noneconomic damages award, and the special verdict form provides only ‘line items’ for past economic damages and future noneconomic damages. This comports with Washington law, and we find no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s decision to give it.”

As shown in this case, listing out noneconomic elements in a jury instruction is often done.

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