How to Use Civil Jury Instructions
These standard jury instructions have been prepared by the Florida Standard Jury Instructions Committee (Civil) and approved for publication by the Florida Supreme Court. Because it is impossible to cover every circumstance or issue with standard instructions, these instructions include only those that have been approved for the types of cases, primarily torts, that occur with enough frequency to have warranted their preparation. Also, because of changes in the law, these instructions may become outdated or in need of revision or supplementation. Although the committee expends substantial effort in preparing standard instructions, the Florida Supreme Court does not express an opinion as to their correctness. For these reasons, parties remain free to contest a standard instruction’s legal correctness or to request additional or alternative instructions.
When compiling a set of proposed instructions, the following minimum steps should be taken:
- Determine the current and complete law required for instructing the jury in your case.
- Make sure you are using the current version of Florida Standard Jury Instructions. The official version of FSJI is located on this website. You can also check for the latest updates by accessing the most recent publication date on the “Opinions” link of the Florida Supreme Court’s website and the “Approved Amendments in Rule Cases” link on the Clerk’s Office webpage for instructions.
- Compile a complete set of proposed instructions for your case from the instructions in this book and, if necessary, by modifying standard instructions or drafting your own case-specific instructions using other appropriate sources.
Using These Instructions for the First Time
The introductory passages below provide useful guidance for preparation of jury instructions by first-time users of this book. Assembling a set of proposed instructions for the court follows custom and organization that may vary somewhat depending on the type of case, and the judge may have specific requirements as well. The model instructions in this book are included as examples of how a set of instructions is customarily assembled. Even if those charges are not specifically applicable to your particular case, they can assist you in organizing your proposed instructions. Remember that standard instructions and model instructions may not fully cover the law in any given case, and case-specific instructions may be required.
Finding the Right Instruction
The instructions are listed by subject matter in the table of contents and in alphabetical order by name in the index. At the start of each section, there is a list of the instructions in that section. All instructions are numbered and presented in numerical order. An instruction may be located by number by quickly scanning the numbers in the running heads. As part of the 2008 reorganization of this book, all substantive instructions for a particular claim have been grouped together.
Ensuring the Instruction Is Current
Supplements to the Second Edition will have pages that contain the date when the page was last revised. No date means the page was part of the revised, reorganized book published in 2010. The notes below certain instructions may include the dates for authorities on which the instruction is based. If the law has changed, the instruction may need to be modified accordingly. The committee’s process of revising standard instructions can be lengthy because it involves discovering the need for a change, researching the law, preparing and revising proposed instructions, and publishing the proposed instructions for comment. Based on comments received, the proposed instructions may again be modified. Only after this process is completed are the proposed instructions submitted to the Florida Supreme Court for approval. Even if new instructions are approved by the Court, they may not yet have appeared in a printed update to this book. All new instructions and revisions to this book, including the latest Florida Supreme Court opinions and text of instructions, are published here.
Assembling a Set of Instructions
This book contains a core of four sections, arranged in the order in which the trial judge will normally instruct the jury, together with additional sections covering oaths, voir dire, instructions for evidentiary and supplemental issues, verdict forms, and model instructions. Standard jury instructions were initially developed for simple negligence cases and were added on an ad hoc basis over the ensuing years.
In 2008, to improve juror communication, this book was substantially reorganized and many instructions were modified by “plain English” changes. As now organized, the substantive instructions for different types of claims are contained in a single section, followed by damage instructions, general instructions, and closing instructions. The substantive instructions have also been reordered so that the jury is instructed first on the issues and the legal rules that will govern its decision. In addition, the comments to the instructions were completely updated.
Drafting Case-Specific Instructions
In most cases, standard jury instructions will be used to instruct the jury in whole or part. However, standard instructions on substantive issues for certain types of cases have not yet been developed or approved for publication. The trial judge has the responsibility to choose and give appropriate and complete instructions in a given case, whether or not the instructions are “standard.” See, e.g., In the matter of the use by the trial courts of the Standard Jury Instructions, 198 So.2d 319 (Fla. 1967).
When drafting case-specific instructions, the format, sequence, and technique used in the standard instructions should be followed to the extent possible. Consult the Theory and Technique of Charging a Jury with These Instructions section on page xxiv and the model instructions in Appendix A. Any instructions in this book on introductory and procedural matters must be used to the extent that they correctly apply in a given case. Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.470(b) sets forth the procedure to be followed when varying from the standard jury instructions in this book. See page xxi.
Referring to Instructions by Number
Refer to instructions by number to facilitate cross-referencing in electronic versions, in case citations, and in publications by other publishers.
Providing Written Instructions to the Jury
Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.470(b) provides that the court shall furnish a written copy of its instructions to each juror. The trial judge must include all instructions. All Bank Repos, Inc. v. Underwriters of Lloyds of London, 582 So.2d 692, 695 (Fla. 4th DCA 1991). The committee strongly encourages the judge to provide the written instructions to the jury prior to the court’s oral instruction so that jurors can follow along when the instructions are read aloud. When assembling instructions that will be supplied to the jury, omit all titles, comments, and instructional notes.
When Instructions Should Be Given
Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.470(b) provides that instructions may be given during the trial and either before or after final argument. The timing of instructions is a matter within the sound discretion of the trial judge.
The committee envisions that before voir dire, the judge will give a brief explanation of the case (see Instruction 201.1). Once the jury has been selected, and before opening statements, the committee strongly recommends that the judge give jury instructions on the case (see Model Instruction No. 1, Appendix A). In most cases, the committee believes that it will be possible to give the jury a complete set of instructions. There will, however, be instances in which some instructions may depend on the admission of certain evidence or rulings from the court and it will not be possible to give a complete set of instructions. In those instances, the committee recommends giving a set of instructions as complete as possible to the jury.
These instructions are organized to facilitate giving the final instructions before final argument. The committee also strongly recommends that the court consider giving the substantive law instructions before final argument of counsel (see Model Instruction No. 1, Appendix A). If instructions are given prior to final argument, the final procedural instructions, section 700, must be given after final arguments are concluded.
A brief description of the individual sections follows:
SECTION 100: OATHS, contains the standard oaths that may be necessary before and during trial.
SECTION 200: PRELIMINARY INSTRUCTIONS, contains instructions for use during jury selection and after the jury has been selected and sworn. The instructions for after the jury has been selected include the duties and conduct of the jury. Because the committee contemplates that the jury will receive a full substantive instruction before the beginning of the trial, reference will also have to be made to some of the following sections.
SECTION 300: EVIDENCE INSTRUCTIONS, contains instructions on how the jury must deal with various items of evidence or rulings of the court.
SECTION 400: SUBSTANTIVE INSTRUCTIONS, contains the principal issues to be resolved by the jury and the legal principles that govern the resolution of those issues, organized according to specific causes of action. For example, in negligence cases, the instructions that frame the basic issues in most cases are as follows:
401.2 Summary of Claims
401.3 Greater Weight of the Evidence
401.12 Legal Cause
401.18 Issues on Plaintiff’s Claim — General Negligence
401.19 Issues on Plaintiff’s Claim — Common Carrier
401.20 Issues on Plaintiff’s Claim — Premises Liability
401.21 Burden of Proof on Main Claim
401.22 Defense Issues
401.23 Burden of Proof on Defense Issues
It may not be sufficient in all cases merely to define and submit these basic issues to the jury. It may be necessary to instruct the jury preemptively with respect to some aspect of plaintiff’s claim as, for example, that defendant is responsible for the conduct of another person, or to withdraw from the jury’s consideration an issue about which there has been some controversy during the trial. It may also be necessary to instruct the jury concerning a preliminary issue. Appropriate standard instructions for these purposes in a negligence case are:
401.13 Preemptive charges
401.14 Preliminary Issues — Vicarious Liability
401.15 Preliminary Issues — Common Carrier
401.16 Preliminary Issues — Premises Liability
401.17 Burden of Proof on Preliminary Issues
Section 400 contains similar instructions for other causes of action.
The instructions in section 400 are suitable for framing the issues regardless of whether the claim made is an original claim, a counterclaim, or a cross-claim. These instructions may also be used when one party makes two or more claims in the same action as when a plaintiff sues two or more defendants claiming separate and distinct acts of negligence resulting in one injury.
In most cases in which a claimant asserts that a defendant was negligent in two or more distinct ways, or that two or more defendants were negligent and that they are jointly liable to him, it will be practical to give the issues and definition instructions one time only, making it applicable to all of the claims. In cases in which there is a counterclaim or cross-claim, the court will ordinarily concentrate on each claim separately, selecting the instructions from section 400 that are appropriate to that particular claim, charge the jury with respect to the issues on that claim including defense issues, and return again to the beginning of section 400 to give the instructions appropriate to the issues on the next claim.
SECTION 500: DAMAGES, contains instructions on damages arranged so that the various elements of damage proper for consideration in any given case may be selected. The model charges contain guidance on straightforward and complicated or multiple claim cases. It is up to the judge to find a convenient manner to instruct on multiple claims without misleading the jury.
SECTION 600: SUBSTANTIVE INSTRUCTIONS — GENERAL, contains basic instructions necessary in almost every case, such as weighing evidence.
SECTION 700: CLOSING INSTRUCTIONS, sets forth closing instructions and an instruction introducing the forms of verdict.
SECTION 800: SUPPLEMENTAL MATTERS, sets forth instructions for issues during jury deliberation and for discharging the jury.
Variance from Standard Instructions
The trial judge has the discretion to insert or omit minor words in a given instruction for clarity. The committee does not discourage such minor editorial modifications to conform a standard instruction to a given case or circumstance, provided the substance of the instruction is unchanged. The committee has done so in preparing some of the model charges.
While minor, non-substantive modifications are permitted, Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.470(b), provides:
The forms of Florida Standard Jury Instructions may be used by the trial judges of this state in charging the jury in civil actions to the extent that the forms are applicable, unless the trial judge determines that an applicable form of instruction is erroneous or inadequate. If the trial judge modifies a Standard Jury Instruction or gives such other instruction as the judge determines necessary to accurately and sufficiently instruct the jury, upon timely objection to the instruction, the trial judge shall state on the record or in a separate order the legal basis for varying from the Standard Jury Instruction. Similarly, in all circumstances in which the notes accompanying the Florida Standard Jury Instructions contain a recommendation that a certain type of instruction not be given, the trial judge shall follow the recommendation unless the judge determines that the giving of such an instruction is necessary to accurately and sufficiently instruct the jury, in which event the judge shall give such instruction as the judge deems appropriate and necessary. If the trial judge does not follow such a recommendation of the Florida Standard Jury Instructions, upon timely objection to the instruction, the trial judge shall state on the record or in a separate order the legal basis of the determination that such instruction is necessary. Not later than at the close of the evidence, the parties shall file written requests that the court instruct the jury on the law set forth in such requests. The court shall then require counsel to appear before it to settle the instructions to be given. At such conference, all objections shall be made and ruled upon and the court shall inform counsel of such instructions as it will give. No party may assign as error the giving of any instruction unless that party objects thereto at such time, or the failure to give any instruction unless that party requested the same. The court shall orally instruct the jury before or after the arguments of counsel and may provide appropriate instructions during the trial. If the instructions are given prior to final argument, the presiding judge shall give the jury final procedural instructions after final arguments are concluded and prior to deliberations. The court shall provide each juror with a written set of the instructions for his or her use in deliberations. The court shall file a copy of such instructions.
See McConnell v. Union Carbide Corp., 937 So.2d 148, 153 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006), discussing the limited range of judicial discretion.
Note, however, that the contents of this book are approved for publication by the Florida Supreme Court subject to the following disclaimer, which appears in whole or in part in opinions approving standard instructions:
[W]e express no opinion on the correctness of these instructions and remind all interested parties that this authorization forecloses neither requesting additional or alternative instructions nor contesting the legal correctness of these instructions. We further caution all interested parties that the notes and comments associated with the instructions reflect only the opinion of the committee and are not necessarily indicative of the views of this Court as to their correctness or applicability.
Standard Jury Instructions-Civil Cases (No. 99-2), 777 So.2d 378, 379 (Fla. 2000).
Use of Special Verdicts
Special verdicts are required or used in many cases. When that occurs, the committee recommends that the questions on the special verdict be incorporated into the jury instructions (see Model Instruction No. 1, Appendix A). An ideal place to do so is in the Burden of Proof instructions, where the “your verdict should be …” language should be changed to “answer question number ___ yes (or no).” This will be assist the jury in understanding how to decide the case and complete the special verdict form. Model Verdict Forms are contained in Appendix B.
Understanding the Signals in This Book
Boldface type, [brackets], (parentheses), and italics are used in standard instructions to give certain directions as follows:
Boldface type identifies words that the trial judge should speak aloud to instruct the jury. A paragraph typeset as follows, for example, should be read aloud in its entirety.
Brackets express variables or alternatives within the text that are to be spoken aloud to the jury. In a sentence typeset as follows, for example, one or more of the applicable variables enclosed in brackets should be read aloud and included in the instructions.
Bracketed material always appears in boldface type because some or all of the enclosed words must be spoken aloud and provided as part of the instruction. The Notes on Use often provide guidance on the variables appropriate in a given circumstance.
Parentheses signify the need to insert a proper name, a specific item or element, or some other variable that must be supplied by the trial judge. For example, in the following sentence, the designations in parentheses should be replaced with the specific profession of the defendant.
Because the words within the parentheses are directional in nature and not spoken to the jury, they do not appear in boldface type. They merely serve as signals to insert names, titles, or other words that must be spoken aloud. In like manner, throughout the instructions the parties are referred to as “claimant” and “defendant,” and these labels may appear in parentheses. The committee does not intend that these labels be used in the jury instructions given to the jury. The judge should name or refer to the parties in the most convenient and clear way.
Italics identify directions to the trial judge. For example, in the following instruction, the words in italics direct the judge on the scope of damages to be included in the instruction.
Note: enumerate those damages in S.J.I. 601.2 as applicable. If there is an issue of comparative negligence, refer to 601.1(c) for additional language and instructions.
A Note on Use may appear immediately following an instruction to provide guidance in the use of an instruction. Where the committee determines that a charge on a particular subject does not materially assist the jury, or that the instruction is likely to be argumentative or negative, or is for other reasons inappropriate, the Note on Use will contain the committee’s recommendation that no instruction be given. A Note on Use is also used by the committee to set out the committee’s reasons for recommending particular treatment and to cite cases and other authorities. The committee uses only illustrative cases and avoids long lists of cases.
(Revised Jan. 2019)