In the event that personal injury mediation is not an option or did not end in a favorable resolution for your case, a trial will be scheduled. Trials for accident lawsuits can be resolved in as early as one day but usually take longer since courtrooms only reserve half a day for trial proceedings.
If your trial keeps getting rescheduled, don’t fret. This does not mean that the judge or the court has a prejudice against your case. It’s common for trials to be delayed because of scheduling conflicts on the part of the prosecution, the defense, or even the judge.
There are six phases of a personal injury trial, with a possible seventh phase:
- Jury Selection
- Plaintiff and Defense Opening Statements
- Witness Testimony, Exhibits, and Cross-Examination
- Closing Arguments from Both Sides
- Jury Instruction
- Case Deliberation and Verdict
- Appeals (when applicable)
High-profile and criminal accident cases always start with jury selection. This is a very precise process because the prosecution and the defense are allowed to exclude certain jurors who are unable to remain objective in the case. Most civil accident trials proceed with a judge only.
Once in the courtroom for the official proceedings, lawyers on both sides present their opening statements. This can last anywhere from minutes to hours depending on the complexity of the case. The prosecution’s statements are often longer and more detailed because they need to establish the how and why the defendant is liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. They need to do this without witness testimony or physical evidence. The defendant’s lawyer follows with the defense’s interpretation of the accident, including key facts and evidence to support their version of events. This introduces reasonable doubt onto the plaintiff’s evidence. This process officially kicks off the personal injury trial.
Witness Testimony, Exhibits, and Cross-Examination
This “case-in-chief” stage is the introduction of key evidence through witness testimony, exhibit introduction, and when applicable, cross-examination. Each side wants to present their arguments to the jury to help the jurors see where liability falls. All witnesses are sworn in and are expected to tell the truth. Perjury could result in jail time if the witness is found to be lying.
Once both sides have rested and no longer have any evidence or witness testimony to present, then the closing arguments begin. This is a critical time for attorneys on both sides because closing arguments summarize the case. This is each attorney’s final moment to sway the judge and jurors in favor of their respective positions.
The judge instructs the jury to follow certain instructions, so they can deliberate the case for the applicable types of verdicts. The legal standards that the judge entrusts to the jury often include “preponderance of the evidence,” definition of specific injury claims, “torts,” and compensatory as well as punitive damages.
In layman’s terms, the judge is entrusting the jury to determine the following:
- if the evidence is enough to merit liability with one party or the other
- if the evidence supports the specific injury claims
- if the claims appear fraudulent
- if there is a clear emotional distress
- how much weight towards compensatory and punitive damages
Case Deliberation and Verdict
The jury is dismissed from the accident trial and sent to gather in the jury deliberation room. They are required to weigh the evidence and work together to decide whether the defendant is liable for the plaintiff’s claimed injuries. If the defendant is found liable, they will also help determine appropriate compensation paid to the plaintiff.
Every jury is different, and for this reason, deliberation can take anywhere from hours to weeks. Most of the time, the jury is able to reach a resounding agreement and the jury foreman delivers the verdict to the judge. This includes recitation of all the charges and the jury’s findings as well as how much damages should be awarded.
When no unanimous decision can be met, a “hung jury” results in the judge declaring a mistrial. Mistrials are either be dismissed without prejudice or start over again with a new jury.
Once a jury’s verdict has been reached, the defense lawyer may decide to appeal the case to a higher appellate court. If the appeal is successful, it overrides the initial trial’s verdict. If the appeal is not brought, then the compensation award is distributed to the appropriate party.
Bear in mind that the award sum is not the final sum. When you work with a lawyer on a contingency basis, they use a lien to pay out court fees and evidence testing among other items. These fees are reimbursed to the law firm from the award sum. You also owe your lawyer a retainer fee unless you paid this up front. All these funds are deducted before distributing the final sums to the appropriate parties. At this point, your personal injury trial is officially over.
Choosing the right personal injury lawyer to handle your accident lawsuit and trial is paramount to ensuring your success. Maintain a strong communication line with your lawyer and their firm to ensure that you receive the most favorable results in a court of law. If you have a case that you would like a personal injury attorney to review, contact Skousen, Gulbrandsen & Patience, PLC. Our law firm has helped families throughout Arizona for more than 50 years. We offer free initial consultations for victims of car accidents, dog bites, and other serious injuries.