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Personal Injury Lawsuits: An Overview of the Trial Process (Part 1)

Although most personal injury lawsuits are settled before trial (through mediation or arbitration), in cases when the representative for a negligent party refuses to settle or is offering a substantially low settlement, your attorney may see your case to trial in order to try to secure you the maximum possible compensation for your injuries, mental anguish and losses. In the initial stages of the trial process, the judge or jury will determine whether there is a “preponderance of evidence” (i.e., sufficient evidence) that the defendant (i.e., the negligent party) should be held accountable for the injuries or losses that the plaintiff sustained.

While the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyers will be presenting evidence regarding the defendant’s reckless or negligent behavior that caused the plaintiff’s injuries, the defense will try to argue that, for whatever reason, the defendant was not entirely (or at all) responsible for the injuries. Following the final arguments of both sides, it will then be up to the judge or jury to determine whether and to what extent the defendant was, in fact, at fault – and, therefore, how much (if anything) the defendant will be required to pay to compensate the plaintiff for his/her injuries.

The following outlines the first three phases that typically occur during personal injury trials:

  1. Jury selection: In cases that are not solely being adjudicated by the judge, the process of jury selection will take place first. During this process, the judge and lawyers for both parties in the lawsuit will ask people within the jury pool a series of questions, which usually pertain to their beliefs, life experiences and possibly general topics associated with the case. At this time, the judge, as well as the attorneys for each party, can disqualify certain jurors on the basis of their answers to these questions.
  2. Opening statements: Following jury selection, the attorney for each party in the case will provide an initial statement in front of the court, with the plaintiff’s lawyer typically presenting the first statement. No physical evidence or witness testimony will be presented during these opening statements. Instead, the plaintiff’s attorney’s opening statements will usually walk juries through the facts of the case, including the nature and severity of the plaintiff’s injuries and how the defendant’s negligence contributed to these injuries; alternately, the defense’s opening statements will provide their interpretation of the case and lay the foundation for rebuking the plaintiff’s claims. In general, the plaintiff’s opening statements tend to be far more detailed than those of the defendant.
  3. Presentation of evidence and cross-examination: During this next phase of the personal injury trial process, each side of the case will meticulously layout all of the evidence it intends to provide to support its arguments. While witnesses and expert witnesses may be called to testify on behalf of the plaintiff or the defendant, this phase of the trial also allows either side to present physical evidence, photographs, medical reports and any other types of evidence it has in order to prove its case. Once both sides have finished presenting their cases, they are considered to “rest” their case, at which point the final states of the personal injury trial will proceed.
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