In reviewing a trial court's decision to give or refuse a tendered instruction, the Supreme Court of Indiana considers whether the instruction: (1) correctly states the law; (2) is supported by the evidence in the record; and (3) is covered in substance by other instructions. The trial court has discretion in instructing the jury, and the high court will reverse on the last two issues only when the instructions amount to an abuse of discretion. When an instruction is challenged as an incorrect statement of the law, however, appellate review of the ruling is de novo.
The customer was injured when she slipped and fell in an outdoor lawn-and-garden area of the discount retailer's premises. At trial of her negligence lawsuit against the retailer, the retailer's procedures manual was admitted into evidence. Although there was plenty of evidence that not all the procedures were followed, it was not clear that they applied to outdoor areas. The trial court's jury instruction on standard of care indicated that the retailer's failure to follow its own procedures could prove negligence. The jury decided in favor of the injured customer. On appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision.
Did the trial court prejudice the retailer when it gave erroneous instructions to the jury?
The Court held that the appropriate standard of care must be applied. The trial court mistated the law when it instructed the jury. The retailer's adoption of high standards did not mean that the manual set a standard of ordinary care at that same level. The jury might reasonably have found that ordinary care demanded somewhat less. As the erroneous instruction had a great likelihood of having affected the verdict, a new trial was required.