Governor Signs Massachusetts House Bill 4123 Allowing Voir Dire and Specific Monetary Damages Requests at Trial

Attorneys who handle personal injury cases such as automobile accidents, medical malpractice, and product liability cases work hard towards a fair and equitable resolution of the issues. When this happens, it is called a “settlement” and ends the case via mutual agreement. Usually, this happens prior to trial, although some cases do settle “on the courthouse steps.”

Sometimes, the parties cannot agree, and a case must proceed to trial. Personal injury cases are usually tried in front of a jury and are governed by a set of rules called the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure. Included in these rules are the methods that attorneys must use to select a jury and limitations on the types of statements that they can make when speaking to that jury as the trial progresses.

House Bill 4123, passed recently by the Massachusetts General Court (the state legislature) and signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick, makes two important changes to Massachusetts Superior Court procedure. The first section of the bill allows attorneys to verbalize a specific figure when discussing damages during trial. Section 2 of the bill allows attorneys to conduct voir dire, or questioning of potential jurors.

What the Bill Actually Says

Section 1 of the bill states, “In civil actions … counsel may suggest a specific monetary amount for damages at trial.” Under the old procedural rule, a lawyer trying a case was not allowed to name a certain sum of damages when speaking to the jury at trial. This may seem odd, given that the attorney trying the case should not only know all of the facts and circumstances of the case, but also be familiar with the verdict or settlement amount of similar cases.

Section 2 states that, after the trial judge examines potential jurors, the attorney can “conduct … an oral examination of the jury venire.” This is done under the direction of the trial court, which can limit the time of such examinations. To make things fair in criminal cases, the bill says that, where there are multiple defendants, the Commonwealth gets the same amount of time that the defendants collectively receive. Under the previous rule, only the judge was allowed to question the potential jurors, making it difficult and sometimes impossible to get an unbiased jury.

How the Bill Affects Injured People Who Seek Justice in Jury Trials

Trial lawyers see Bill 4123 as a step in the right direction for injured people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves sitting in a courtroom asking a jury to compensate them for injuries caused by the carelessness or recklessness of others. Many states already allow trial lawyers the latitude afforded under House Bill 4123, and it is high time that Massachusetts did what is right by following suit.

If You Need a Trial Lawyer Who Will Fight Hard for Justice

The Cape Cod injury attorneys at the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III are well-versed in the procedural and evidentiary rules related to personal injury litigation. We are here to help if you or a loved one has been injured and needs advice as to whether and how to file suit against the person or business whose careless behavior hurt you. Call us for a free, no-obligation appointment to discuss your case. You can reach us in Hyannis at ( 508) 775-0088 or in Plymouth at (508) 747-9888. You can also contact us online. Nos falamos Portugues!

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