Part 2: Golden Rule Arguments
Part two of this two part series concerns an age-old adage that is almost universally learned during childhood. The Golden Rule has its root in religion. However, regardless of beliefs, most children are taught to “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” The concept behind the rule is basic human decency; good people do not treat others in a manner that they themselves would find improper. For example, assuming a driver knows that texting while driving substantially increases the likelihood of causing an auto-accident and injuries to another person, when that driver chooses to ignore that knowledge and text while driving, he or she has violated the Golden Rule towards potential accident victims.
It’s a very simple concept, and one that most people understand. Using the Golden Rule to analyze your own personal actions on a regular basis is central to leading the life of a decent, socially-respectful person.
However, as important as the Golden Rule is in everyday life, there is one part of American society where the rule is completely banned. The American Justice System has universally banned any reference to the Golden Rule during a trial. The best way to explain the Court’s decision on the Golden Rule is to explain the way it works. While the above stated example of texting while driving is a violation of society’s Golden Rule, in America’s court system a Golden Rule Violation boils down to any reference to a jury that they should consider or employ the Golden Rule while making their decision. Frankly put, if an attorney asks the jury to consider what they would have done in a plaintiff or defendant’s position, that argument is considered a Golden Rule Violation.
Now this may seem strange to you as a potential juror; after all, a large percentage of our justice system is based off of the basic principle of treating others in a fair and appropriate way. If you think about most crimes and tort violations, it’s obvious that you would not want those violations to be committed against you. American law attempts to create equity or fairness. But although many criminal and civil cases involve conduct that violates the Golden Rule basis of the crime or tort, any reference to that basis is considered an egregious offense. Oftentimes a significant enough violation will result in mistrial and massive expenses to clients and the attorney alike.
As odd as the ban on referencing Golden Rule values may seem, the Court does have a somewhat logical reasoning for it. The Courts have decided that referencing the Golden Rule to jurors encourages them to depart from deciding the case based neutral and impartial standpoint; by asking the jury to consider whether they would have personally acted as a party did, or what they would personally expect if they were in the plaintiff’s position, the attorney is promoting the use of personal bias in decision-making by the jurors.
The reasoning for the rule is sound on its face, but may be inherently flawed in reality. Consider these facts using a personal injury case as an example:
- Personal Injury and other civil trials in Florida are decided by a jury made up of six impartial jurors.
- An impartial juror is one that has no personal interest or bias toward the outcome of the trial. This means that the juror has no actual benefit based upon who wins or loses.
- Jurors are pulled from a group made up of an appropriate cross-section of American society. They are not required to have or apply any special skills or outside knowledge.
- In Personal Injury cases, the law requires jurors to apply a reasonably prudent person standard in deciding liability.
- Jurors in civil actions are given the task of determining fair and adequate compensation based on the damages the plaintiff has suffered.
As the facts above exhibit, jurors have only the evidence presented, and their own life experience, common sense, and personal knowledge/opinion of reasonableness to determine the outcome of a case. This means that jury verdicts are based on the jurors’ personal viewpoints. Asking a juror to apply a reasonable person standard, and then telling that same juror to determine what reasonable is, inherently implies that the juror himself is reasonable. Therefore, the reasonable person standard must be regularly determined on whether that juror would have acted in a certain way or what that particular juror thinks is fair and adequate compensation.
So, in reality, by banning reference to the golden rule, the courts have muddied the water concerning how jurors are supposed to determine cases. What is reasonableness Well the court can’t tell you, and the attorneys can only tell you to use your best judgment. So, if you’re sitting on a jury, listening as a Personal Injury Attorney attempts to explain the reasonable person standard, remember the golden rule. Remember that it is up to you to determine what is reasonable. Ask yourself if the defendant had acted the way he or she did and you were the plaintiff: what would your feelings be? How would you have reacted? What sort of compensation would you need to keep for suffering undue harm?
These questions are vital in determining what is fair in deciding a civil claim, but you’ll never hear them in court. So remember to use your common sense as a juror; and remember how to properly determine what’s reasonable when you hold someone else’s fate in your hands. Do unto the parties as you would have jurors do unto you.
Dolman Law Group is a Clearwater based Florida personal injury law firm. If you have been injured as a result of the negligence exhibited by an individual or corporation, please call us today for a free case evaluation and consultation at: (727) 451-6900.