The way to preserve objections to jury instructions in Louisiana courts is spelled out in La. Code Civ. P. art. 1793. Article 1793(A) allows the parties to file written requests for jury instructions, and art. 1793(B) requires the judge to inform the parties of the instructions it will give (including the court’s actions on the parties requested instructions) within a reasonable time before closing arguments.
The next paragraph, art. 1793(C), spells out the error-preservation rule:
A party may not assign as error the giving or the failure to give an instruction unless he objects thereto either before the jury retires or immediately after the jury retires, stating specifically the matter to which he objects and the grounds of his objection.
The reason for this rule is the same fundamental principle underlying all error-preservation rules: a specific objection and the grounds for the objection are required to allow the trial court a fair opportunity to correct any erroneous charges before the jury deliberates. Luman v. Highlands Ins. Co., 632 So. 2d 910, 914 (La. App. 2 Cir. 1994).
The phrase “immediately after the jury retires” was addressed by the Louisiana Second Circuit in Sledge v. Continental Casualty Co., 639 So. 2d 805 (La. App. 2 Cir. 1994). In that case, no one objected to the jury instructions before the jury retired. Twenty minutes into deliberations, the jury returned with a question. After the judge dealt with the question and the jury again retired, plaintiff’s counsel objected to the instruction. The court of appeal held that the objection came too late, concluding that “immediately after” means “as soon as the jury has left the courtroom to begin its deliberations and without any undue delay.” Id. at 815. The reason for this short time is to give the trial judge an opportunity to correct the problem before the jury is influenced by its own deliberations. Id.
The phrase “stating specifically the matter to which [the party] objects” means that the objecting party must specifically identify the objectionable instruction. Louisiana courts have repeatedly held that blanket objections do not satisfy the specificity requirement. Here are just a few examples of objections failing to meet this requirement:
- “Defendant objects to any charges that it offered that were not given, whatever those were.” Osborne v. Ladner, 691 So. 2d 1245, 1252 (La. App. 1 Cir. 1997).
- “I will object to all of the charges that were given.” Vitari v. Lewis, 361 So. 2d 476, 479 (La. App. 4 Cir. 1978).
- My favorite: “I also want to object to this jury charge that you are about to give in that there was no brackets or screws and in this charge, therefore you can’t give a charge that does not at least allow the evidence of the case to match the charge. So I don’t know why you're giving that charge.... This is part of this charge that talks about the owner if he got advice from someone else, if he acted on that advice.... And I don’t believe and [sic] owner can circumvent or get out of any liability because of any defense alleging he relied on someone else, it was either strictly liable or negligent or not, he can’t use that as a defense.” The court of appeal commented, “[I]t is not clear what counsel is objecting to in reference to the jury charges, and there is no clear relationship between the vague objections made at trial to the ones made in this appeal.” Seal v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 816 So. 2d 868, 871 (La. App. 4 Cir. 2002).
Article 1793(C) requires more than specific identification of the objectionable instruction; it also requires a statement of “the grounds of [the] objection.” Merely making an objection without giving any reasons for the objection is insufficient. Boncosky Servs., Inc. v. Lampo, 751 So. 2d 278, 284 (La. App. 1 Cir. 1999). In at least two reported Louisiana decisions, counsel were quite specific in identifying the objected-to instructions, but failed to preserve the objection by failing to state the grounds for the objection. See Etcher v. Neumann, 806 So. 2d 826, 833–34 (La. App. 1 Cir. 2001), and Le v. Johnstown Props., 572 So. 2d 1070, 1075 (La. App. 5 Cir. 1990).
The requirements of La. Code Civ. P. art. 1793(C) apply not only to error in the jury instructions, but also to errors in the verdict form. See, e.g., Kose v. Cablevision of Shreveport, 755 So. 2d 1039, 1052–53 (La. App. 2 Cir. 2000) (applying art. 1793 to defendant’s failure to object timely to the verdict form); Hebert v. Old Republic Ins. Co., 807 So. 2d 1114, 1127 (La. App. 5 Cir. 2002) (Art. 1793 “applies to jury interrogatories.”). Merely offering an alternative verdict form without objecting to the verdict form given the jury is insufficient. See Jordan v. Intercontinental Bulktank, 621 So. 2d 1141, 1155 (La. App. 1 Cir. 1993), quoting Wisner v. Ill. C. Gulf R.R., 537 So. 2d 740, 751 (La. App. 1 Cir. 1988).
Besides being governed by art. 1793, special verdict forms are governed by La. Code Civ. P. art. 1812. The provisions of art. 1812 are similar to those in art. 1793. Article 1812(B) requires the trial judge to inform the parties within a reasonable time before closing arguments of the special verdict form the court intends to submit to the jury and to give the parties a reasonable opportunity to make objections. If the verdict form omits a factual issue raised by the pleadings or the evidence, an objecting party must demand the issue’s submission to the jury before the jury retires; otherwise the party waives the right to a jury trial of that issue. La. Code Civ. P. art. 1812(A). After the jury retires, it is too late to object to the verdict form. See Streeter v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 533 So. 2d 54, 60 (La. App. 3 Cir. 1988).