Our Orlando Injury Attorneys Describe Your Court Case from Beginning to End
Part 5: What Happens at Trial?
The following is part five in our six-part series outlining a basic personal injury case from beginning to end. Previously we covered:
- Part 1: Meeting With an Attorney for the First Time: What You Can Expect?
- Part 2: Beginning the Lawsuit through Initial Court Papers
- Part 3: What is Discovery?
- Part 4: Court Motions
This month’s addition will explain the trial process, including jury selection, expert witnesses and the verdict.
Note: This material is provided for informational purposes only and should not be taken as formal legal advice.
What Happens At Trial?
If all efforts for a successful settlement have failed, your case will be tried before a jury of six men and women. You should not be afraid of the jury system. It is without question the best system in the world, and it separates our country from most of the rest of the world. Most jurors take the service seriously and attempt to do the right thing. You should feel positive that the jury system will work for you if it becomes necessary to take your case through an actual trial.
Before the Trial
In most cases, the lawyers and judge agree before trial, often at pre-trial conferences, what issues are in dispute and must be decided by the jury, and what issues are not in dispute. Both sides reveal whom they intend to call as witnesses and, generally, what evidence they will introduce at trial. This pre-trial conference is helpful to avoid wasting time during the trial on irrelevant issues. However, just because the lawyers agree before trial on what issues are in dispute, doesn’t mean that they agree on how the case should be decided.
The trial judge controls the trial process and instructs the jury as to the law that applies to your particular case. The jury evaluates the facts presented and determines from a realistic standpoint which side should prevail. If the plaintiff has prevailed, he or she will receive the appropriate amount of money damages.
One of the first steps in a personal injury trial is the selection of a jury. During jury selection, the judge (and usually the plaintiff and the defendant, through their respective attorneys) will ask general questions of the pool of potential jurors, attempting to learn of any pre-dispositions (prejudice or biases) or life experiences that may pertain to the particular case. The process of jury “selection” is actually a procedure by which certain potential jurors are excluded. A potential juror may be “challenged” by either the plaintiff’s or the defendant’s attorney to excuse a juror who has shown he or she cannot be truly objective in deciding the case. The judge also can excuse potential jurors based upon their responses to questions.
The Trial Begins
Once a jury is selected, the next step in a personal injury trial comes in the form of opening statement, one from the plaintiff’s attorney and the other from an attorney representing the defendant. Because the plaintiff must prove the defendant’s legal liability for the plaintiff’s injuries, the plaintiff’s opening statement is given first and is often more detailed than the defendant’s. Each lawyer presents his or her version of the issues in the case and describes evidence to the jury that they will introduce to try to persuade the jury to decide the case in their favor.
Next, because the plaintiff has the burden to prove the defendant’s responsibility for the plaintiff’s injuries, the plaintiff’s attorney then ‘presents’ their case. By the use of witness testimony and the introduction of physical evidence such as photographs, documents and medical records, the plaintiff’s attorney presents evidence in an attempt to convince the jury of the defendant’s responsibility, and the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s injuries. At the conclusion of the plaintiff’s case, the defendant’s attorney will present evidence and witnesses to rebut the plaintiff’s case. After direct examination (questioning) of the witness by the party who brought that witness to trial, the opposing party has the opportunity to cross-examine (question) that witness in an effort to minimize the impact of the witness’s testimony.
Both sides may use what are called “expert” witnesses. These are persons with particular training and expertise, such as doctors, engineers or accountants, who provide more detailed or complex testimony.
The Trial Ends
At the conclusion of the evidence presented by both sides, the attorneys make their closing statements to the jury. These closing statements, also called closing arguments, offer the plaintiff and defendant a chance to “sum up” their case, emphasizing the evidence and witness testimony in a light most favorable to their respective positions. As this is the final chance for the attorneys to address the jury prior to deliberations, the plaintiff’s attorney first argues why the evidence requires the jury to find the defendant legally responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries, and then argues the amount of money damage (compensation) the jury should award.
In turn, the defendant’s attorney will argue that the plaintiff has not met their burden of proving the defendant’s legal responsibility for the injury. The defendant’s attorney will also argue that if a jury should feel the plaintiff is entitled to an award of money damages, that amount should be far less than is being suggested by the plaintiff’s attorney.
Following the closing arguments, the jury is provided with the law that applies to the particular case and the facts that have been presented. These are called “jury instructions” and include what findings the jury must make in order to arrive at certain conclusions, including the award of money damages if the jury finds them justified. The jury then retires to the jury room to discuss the evidence and reach their verdict. This is their first opportunity to discuss the case and is a process that can last from several hours to several days.
Reaching and Delivering a Verdict
The verdict is a written form on which the jury must answer a number of questions. Their answers must be unanimous as to whether the defendant should be held responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries, and if so, the appropriate compensation for those injuries. Once the jury reaches a decision, the judge is notified and the judge usually reads the verdict in open court. If their decision is in favor of the Plaintiff and awards money compensation, the Judge will enter (sign) a Final Judgment for Damages against the Defendant stating the amount of money that has been awarded. If the decision is in favor of the Defendant, the Judge will enter a Final Judgment for Defendant, stating that the Plaintiff is awarded nothing.
If you need an Orlando injury lawyer, please contact our firm now. Call 1-800-235-7060 to schedule a free consultation with our firm today, and we can explain your best choices following a catastrophic accident or the death of a loved one.