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Most personal injury cases never see a courtroom; usually, the involved parties will try to settle before a case ever goes to trial. However, in the chance that your case does go to a trial—either at the recommendation of your lawyer or the actions of the defendant—it's good to be prepared.
While our firm is backed by expert trial lawyers who know this process like the back of their hands and are ready to represent you accordingly, we believe you should have a clear understanding of what may play out with your case. That's why it's important that you know what a trial process looks like, so that you feel empowered and in tune when it comes to your personal injury case. Let's take a look at why and how a usual personal injury trial proceeds.
A personal injury trial is a trial that is held before either a judge or a jury in which you assert that the personal injuries you have sustained are due to the negligence of another person or party. You, the plaintiff, will have to state your case and prove that the responsible party, or the defendant, is liable for some form of damages in regard to your injury.
Generally, personal injury trials process through the following steps. Going to trial may sound intimidating, but your personal injury attorney will be there through each step to guide you along the way.
If your case is going to be heard by a jury and not just a judge, then jury selection is the very first step in your trial process. During this phase, a pool of potential jurors is questioned by the judge who will be proceeding over your case. The judge may ask each juror questions pertaining to the case, including questions about personal ideological beliefs, life experience, and more. The judge can then choose to exclude or dismiss any jurors they believe would fail to present a neutral interpretation of the law or facts in relation to your case.
This privilege is not exclusive to the judge alone. Both the plaintiff (remember, that's you) and the defendant (the party you're bringing to court) have the opportunity to exclude a certain number of jurors for any reason.
During the opening statement, your lawyer will lay out the facts of your case. During this time, they address the court directly and explain to the jury what you intend to prove occurred. Because it is the responsibility of the plaintiff's legal team to prove the defendant guilty, and not the other way around, your statement is usually given first. Afterward, the defendant's lawyer will present their own opening statement to the jury, at which point they will present their own interpretation of the facts and walk through their plan for rebutting the evidence your team has laid out.
Once both sides have presented their opening statements, the trial moves on to the witness testimony phase. This is what you usually see in TV dramas when it comes to court cases, with a witness sitting on the stand as lawyers question them. It's the stage in which your lawyer will present your key evidence and arguments to the jury through the use of witness testimony. Your lawyer may call in experts to testify, as well as submit physical evidence such as photographs or documents.
After your lawyer has questioned their witness, the defense will also have an opportunity to do the same. At this point, the defendant's attorney will try and poke holes in the evidence that has been laid out through the witness testimony. After this cross-examination, your legal team will have one more opportunity to question its witness through what's called "redirect examination."
After your legal team has fully laid out its case, the defendant will have the opportunity to follow the same exact process with its own witnesses and physical evidence aimed at refuting the case made by the prosecution. When both parties have done this to the full extent, each side will rest, meaning that there is no further evidence to present to the court.
The final stage in your actual legal representation comes in the form of closing arguments. Similar to the way each side explained what they intended to prove in their opening statement, the closing argument summarizes the facts and assertions each legal team has made. This is the final opportunity your lawyer has to address the jury directly before they retreat on their own to deliberate the outcome of the trial.
When it comes to jury deliberation, this could take anywhere from hours, to days, to weeks, and in some more serious cases, months. It's the jury's opportunity to discuss the facts of the case with one another and deliberate their way toward a decision. What is required of a jury decision varies from state to state; in Montana, decisions can be made by a two-thirds majority of jurors.
With the possibility of losing a trial after lots of hard work, it's so important to have an expert lawyer who knows the ins and outs of trial law, understands your case thoroughly, and can advise you on the best direction to take for a victorious outcome. Again, most personal injury cases rarely face the courtroom. But if they do, you want someone on your side who can confidently act on your behalf with the best representation and expertise available. If you are dealing with a personal injury and wondering if you should pursue a legal process for damages, please give us a call. We are ready and waiting to help.