Trial lawyers know that effective preparation begins where the trial itself will end – with jury instructions. Instructions define key terms for the jury, outline the elements of a legal relationship, duty or breach, and explain damages and burdens of proof. They do the same for the practitioner preparing to prosecute or defend a civil action, whether or not trial by jury is anticipated. Jury instructions also serve as a roadmap for case preparation, and as a checklist when marshaling proof. Access to current, complete, and authoritative instructions, therefore, is essential for trial planning, and for more than 40 years the MSBA’s Maryland Civil Pattern Jury Instructions (MPJI-Cv) have been the practitioner’s first stop in the trial prep process. This tradition continues with the release of Maryland Civil Pattern Jury Instructions, Fifth Edition with 2020 Replacement Pages, containing new instructions, revised commentary, and updated case citations. It is now available in hard-copy and electronic formats.
The 2020 updates reflect the work of the MSBA’s Standing Committee on Pattern Jury Instructions, a panel of accomplished attorneys, judges and academics who annually review the instructions and commentary that accompanies each entry. The committee members ensure accuracy and continuity by engaging in the exacting process established years ago by their predecessors, when pattern jury instructions were first introduced to the public. As described by Professor Byron Warnken, then the Reporter for the Maryland Criminal Pattern Jury Instructions:
[T]he instructions have been worked and reworked numerous times before final approval. Every word and phrase has been carefully analyzed to determine whether the instruction properly and unambiguously conveys the law and its application, explained in a manner that is readily understandable to an individual who has no legal training and perhaps even relatively little formal education. At the same time, every word and phrase has been carefully analyzed to determine whether the instruction can withstand the scrutiny of multiple levels of appellate review.
Warnken, Byron, Maryland Criminal Pattern Jury Instructions,16 U. Balt. L. Forum No. 3 (Spring 1986).
Since its first publication in 1978, Maryland lawyers and judges have used the Maryland Civil Pattern Jury Instructions for clear, concise, and easy to understand statements of legal principles that govern civil duties, obligations, and disputes. Arranged alphabetically by topic, from Adverse Possession and Agency, to Wills & Estates and Workers’ Comp, step-by-step instructions provide the practitioner, jury, and judge with definitions, outlines of the elements, and evidence needed to prove a civil cause of action, damages, and other available remedies, and the appropriate burdens of proof. The jury instructions are indexed, internally cross-referenced, and listed in a detailed table of contents, and in a separate table that identifies new, renumbered and superseded instructions from prior editions.
While the instructions themselves are an invaluable, time-saving resource, this publication has historically distinguished itself with detailed commentary regarding how and when to use or modify the instructions, supported by extensive citations to relevant case law, statutes and rules. Whether thumbing through actual pages or searching electronically, Maryland Civil Pattern Jury Instructions, Fifth Edition with 2020 Replacement Pages puts an entire legal encyclopedia at its users’ fingertips, providing ready access to black letter law, nuanced discussion of applicable legal principles, and references to governing legal authority. Among the 16 jury instructions that concern negligence generally, for example, there is a two-sentence jury instruction that defines “negligence” (MPJI-Cv 19:1). It is accompanied by eight pages of commentary and case citations that separately address the elements of a negligence claim, and the proof required as to each element. Likewise, in the section dedicated to premises liability, a jury instruction defining the status of the injured person as an invitee, licensee,or trespasser (MPJI-Cv 24:2) is accompanied by a detailed list of examples helping the practitioner distinguish from among these options, with citations to the authority from which each was derived. The drafters’ commentary to the instruction outlining the elements of a claim for wrongful or abusive discharge (MPJI-Cv 22:2) similarly provides research regarding who may be sued, under what circumstance, and what damages might be awarded. This pattern repeats throughout, so that a practitioner has in a single volume a wealth of research regarding each of the 28 subject areas of civil wrongs for which dedicated sets of instructions have been written.
Reflecting changes in the law, Maryland Civil Pattern Jury Instructions, Fifth Edition with 2020 Replacement Pages, includes four completely new instructions on workplace harassment and retaliation. It also contains revised instructions on damages and agency, and dozens of new and revised comments and citations to recent cases that alter or amplify existing law. MPJI-Cv continues to serve as the Maryland lawyer’s first, and last, step in the trial preparation process. It clearly is not just for jurors anymore!