Ark. Model Jury Instr., Civil INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS
Arkansas Model Jury Instructions-Civil
December 2023 Update
Use of AMI
The Arkansas Model Jury Instructions - Civil are one of the most useful tools of a trial lawyer and judge. They address the issues in many of the cases that are tried to juries, making the attorneys’ and judge’s job easier. They also reduce the chances of an error in jury instructions that could cause a jury verdict to be reversed on appeal.
Preservation of Error
The plaintiff in each case should always prepare and submit a set of proposed jury instructions covering all of the issues that the plaintiff contends should be submitted to the jury, as well as standard instructions. The defendant should be prepared to submit alternative instructions if the defendant disagrees with the instructions submitted by the plaintiff and additional jury instructions if the defendant believes that the plaintiff’s set is incomplete. Each party should also submit proposed verdict forms with the proposed instructions. Trial courts will appreciate the parties attempting to formulate an agreed set of jury instructions and attempting to resolve disputes over jury instructions prior to the jury instruction conference.
Each party should be prepared to argue, on the record, in a timely manner and with specificity, any objections to instructions or verdict forms proposed by an opposing party. Practitioners are cautioned to be familiar with, and strictly follow, the steps necessary to preserve the right to appeal from any adverse ruling of the trial court based on jury instructions, beginning with Rule 51 of the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure. In Agracat, Inc. v. AFS-NWA, LLC, 2012 Ark. App. 372, at 4, the appellant objected to an instruction on the grounds that it “improperly stated what a fiduciary duty is or what obligations it imposes on the parties.” In ruling that this objection was not sufficiently specific to preserve the issue for appellate review, the court stated “an objection that merely asserts that an instruction is an incorrect statement of the law is general in nature and does not preserve the point for review.” Agracat, Inc., 2012 Ark. App. 372, at 5. See also Allstate Ins. Co. v. Dodson, 2011 Ark. 19, at 4-10, 376 S.W.3d 414, 419-423 (holding, in a case in which counsel objected to an instruction and began to explain her reasoning but was interrupted by the trial court, that any error in the instruction given was not preserved for appeal because the basis for the required specific objection was not part of the record). However, where “an instruction is inherently erroneous, a general objection to it will suffice.” Advocat, Inc. v. Sauer, 353 Ark. 29, 65, 111 S.W.3d 346, 367 (2003). “An inherently erroneous instruction is one that could not be correct under any circumstance.” Id.
Each party should listen carefully to the instructions as they are read to the jury. In Thy N. Tran v. Thi T. Vo, 2017 Ark. App. 618, 535 S.W. 3d 295 (2017), a trial court ordered a new trial or remittitur after concluding that a model jury instruction was incomplete because the second page of the instruction was missing. The Arkansas Court of Appeals held that the trial court had abused its discretion and reversed. The Court of Appeals concluded that the appellee had waived any error associated with the instruction and noted that the appellee had not objected to the instruction when it was read to the jury.
When ruling on the jury instructions, the trial court should decide if the instruction is a correct statement of the law and if there is some basis in the evidence to support the instruction. Millsap v. Williams, 2014 Ark. 469, at 12, 449 S.W.3d 291, 298. The trial court should give the model instruction unless the instruction does not accurately state the law. (Per Curiam Order of April 19, 1965). The party requesting the instruction should proffer for the record any instruction not given by the trial court.
In addition, attorneys should consider whether to request the submission of claims or itemized damages on interrogatories, instead of a general verdict. In some instances, an issue will not be preserved for appeal unless claims or damages are submitted to the jury on interrogatories rather than a general verdict. See Comment to AMI 201.
Organization of AMI
The AMI address those state law issues that are commonly presented in jury trials but do not attempt to address issues which do not frequently arise. At times the applicable principles of law are not sufficiently developed to permit the formulation of a model instruction. The fact that there is no AMI on a particular issue does not imply that the jury should not be instructed on that issue. A special instruction tailored to the issue must be prepared by counsel.
The instructions are organized in the order in which the issues are usually presented, but courts and practitioners should not be constrained by this organization and should organize the instructions for particular cases in the manner that most clearly presents the issues to the jury. There is no need to instruct on issues that are admitted or stipulated.
Almost all cases will call for the “standard” jury instructions found at AMI 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 202, and 3501 or 3502, and will also require a damages instruction, either AMI 2201 with appropriate elements inserted or the specific damages instruction applicable to the particular cause of action.
Any case where an expert witness testifies will require AMI 107. Any case where there is circumstantial evidence will require AMI 108. Cases involving multiple parties will require the use of AMI 109 or 110, or both, as appropriate. When more than one party is alleged to be at fault, the appropriate instructions in Chapter 21 should be used.
The appropriate instructions in Chapters 2, 5, 6 and 22 can be used in most cases where negligence is the issue. Some particular types of negligence claims have jury instructions tailored to those causes of action, which can be found in Chapters 3, 9-18 and 23. In any case where the violation of a statute, ordinance or regulation is alleged to be evidence of negligence, AMI 601, or its motor vehicle accident counterpart, 903, should be used. Chapter 4 covers intentional torts and defamation.
Contract cases call for instructions from Chapter 24, and cases under Article 2 of the UCC utilize instructions from Chapter 25. These chapters have their own damages instructions.
Instructions for use in claims based on other statutory causes of action can be found in Chapters 8, 19 and 26-31. Chapters 26, 27 and 30 have their own damages instructions.
Instructions for eminent domain cases are in Chapter 20.
Most instructions have Notes on Use that should be followed in deciding whether an instruction should be submitted. The Comments following the instructions are intended to provide guidance to the users of this publication but are not intended to be exhaustive discussions of the legal principles contained in the instructions.
Chapter 36 contains illustrative sets of instructions for some common cases that can be used as a starting point for attorneys preparing a set of instructions. However, it is recommended that users become familiar with all of the instructions contained in this publication in order to ensure that all appropriate instructions, and no inappropriate instructions, are submitted.
© 2023 Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Jury Instructions-Civil
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