Jury duty is an important civic duty. Just like paying your taxes or voting, jury duty is essential to maintaining our civic infrastructure. However, though an estimated 8 million people report for jury duty every year, many people don’t know a lot about the process.
For instance, did you know in a court of law, an attorney is not allowed to say the word “insurance”? Do you know what protections you have as a juror? Or how about what the penalty is in Montana for failing to appear for jury duty?
In this blog post, we’ll be answering all these questions and more.
You’ll Never Hear the Word “Insurance” in Court
Here at Judnich Law, when we go to court as a plaintiff or victim’s attorney, whenever we’re in front of a juror or jury of 12 people, we’re not allowed to say the word “insurance.” This is not a rule set specifically for our firm, rather something all attorneys are bound to follow.
Attorneys cannot tell a jury the person who’ll be paying for the damages is an insurance company.
Take a car accident case, for example. In this scenario, the victim of a car crash has likely suffered injuries and medical bills, potentially missed work, and needs to be compensated. As a juror, you will listen to all the evidence and testimony of this case. Your job will be to come to verdict for the person who caused the accident (defendant).
Throughout this entire process, you may be under the misapprehension the person who will pay for the verdict is the guilty party. However, this is likely not the case at all. Most of the time, the defendant is indemnified by their insurance provider.
When someone has auto insurance, they pay a monthly fee to protect against any accidents. If an accident does happen, the insurance company secures the person against legal responsibility for their actions–– this is called indemnification.
When a jury awards a fair and full verdict for the victim of a car crash, the defendant’s insurance company steps in and pays for the entire cost of the verdict. The person who was at fault and who is indemnified by their insurance company doesn’t pay a thing.
Why the Ban?
Insurance lobbyists worked to convince the courts to eliminate the word insurance from hearings. These lobbyists didn’t want the jury to know whether or not the plaintiff would actually be paying for their verdict.
This rule was established to keep a jury from delivering a higher verdict simply because they know someone other than the victim is paying for it. Unfortunately, this rule often hurts the victim as a jury may give a lighter verdict in hopes of sparing the defendant.
Always Give the Victim a Full and Fair Verdict
If you get the chance to serve on a civil jury, then your job is to determine how much is a full and fair award for the victim of the crash.
Don’t feel like you’re saving the defendant any money by holding back on delivering a full and fair verdict. Remember the “person” footing the bill is the defendant’s insurance company.
Other Important Facts About Serving as a Juror
If you’ve been summoned for jury duty, you may have other questions about what to expect. Or maybe you just want to stay prepared. Either way, there are a few important things to know about your right and obligation to serve on a jury.
Who Can Serve On A Jury?
In order to be legally qualified for jury service, you must meet the following requirements:
- Be a United States citizen
- Be at least 18 years old
- Reside in the judicial district for one year
- Be proficient enough in English to complete the juror qualification form satisfactorily
- Not be subject to felony charges punishable by imprisonment for more than 1 year
- Never have been convicted of a felony (unless your civil rights have been legally restored)
There are also a few groups exempt from federal jury service, including:
- Members of the armed forces on active duty
- Members of professional fire and police departments
- Public officers of federal, state, or local governments currently engaged in the performance of public duties full-time
Ways You Can Be Excused from Jury Duty in Montana
There are a few reasons you may be dismissed from serving on a jury. Typically, a jury selection committee will excuse you if you have individual biases that prevent you from being impartial on the case.
These biases can result from:
- A connection to law enforcement or someone involved in the case
- Being a victim in a similar case
- Negative pre-trial publicity
Reasons A Jury Selection May Be Disqualified
Even after you are chosen for a jury, you can be disqualified for certain behavior or issues. You must remain free of bias and follow the instructions of the court through the entire trial.
A few examples of reasons for being disqualified can include:
- Being late or absent for trial
- Contact with the defendant
- Refusing to apply the law as instructed by the court
- Sleeping during the trial or the inability to concentrate
- Bringing outside information into the jury room
You Can Be Penalized for Non-Attendance
If you receive a jury summon in the mail, ignoring it won’t make it go away. According to Montana law, If you fail to appear or appear but refuse to serve, it can result in one or all of the following:
- Up to a $1,000 fine
- Imprisonment for up to 3 days
- Community service sentence
Employers Must Give Time Off for Jury Duty
Your employer is required to give you time off for jury duty. Even though your employer must honor your civil obligation, Montana law does not require private employers to pay for absences caused by jury duty.
Check with your company’s HR department to learn your company policy on this subject. Although not required to do so, many employers will pay for this time off anyway.
Your Responsibility Outside of the Courtroom
As your serving on a jury, there are a few things you need to know about how you conduct yourself outside of the courtroom. For example, if anyone approaches you outside of court to discuss the case or sway your verdict, you must inform the judge or someone in authority right away.
Additionally, as a juror, you are protected by the State. If anyone tries to threaten or intimidate you during or after the case, the State is obligated to provide protection.
Have More Questions? Give Us A Call!
If you have questions about anything in this blog post, give us a call at (406) 721-3354. Or, if you’re set to appear in court for reasons other than jury duty, we can help you understand the process and provide guidance to help you make the best decisions.
Whatever questions you have, we’d love to hear from you.
Marty is a former criminal prosecutor in the Cascade County Attorney’s Office and now uses that experience to defend those accused of crimes. A University of Montana School of Law graduate, Marty focuses his practice on personal injury and criminal defense and is a premier DUI defense attorney. He is also well versed in the insurance claims industry and has negotiated significant settlements with nearly every major insurance company.