During a personal injury trial, the first phases of the trial process will typically involve jury selection, both the plaintiff’s and the defendant’s lawyers making opening statements and then both sides carefully presenting all of the evidence they have to prove their case. Following these initial stages of the trial, the proceedings will them shift the final stages, which generally include the following:
- Closing arguments: The closing statements for both sides, just like the opening statements, provide an overview of the arguments and evidence that each side of the case has presented. In general, the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyers will try to drive home the notion that the defendant’s recklessness or negligence caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries and that it’s the jury’s responsibility to hold the defendant accountable by ruling in favor of the plaintiff. Alternately, the defense attorneys will likely attempt to argue that the plaintiff failed to provide sufficient evidence to find the defendant guilty. Because this is the last chance that both sides have to address the jury before it deliberates and reaches a verdict in the case, closing statements tend to be dramatic in order to ensure that the arguments of either side have an impact on the jury.
- Jury Instruction: Following the closing statements, the judge will give the jury some specific legal instructions regarding the guidelines it should use in the process of coming to a verdict in the case. While the judge will inform the jury members of the findings they will need to come to in order to conclude that the defendant was or was not responsible, the judge will also define crucial legal concepts, such as tort law and the preponderance of evidence. Additionally, the judge will also outline the various types of damages that can be awarded (i.e., compensatory damages and punitive damages).
- Deliberation and Verdict Reading: Once the judge has finished instructing the jury, jury members will collectively deliberate the case, which means they will go into a room only with each other to discuss the case and try to come to a collective agreement in favor of either the plaintiff or the defendant. This will be the first chance that jurors have to talk about the case with each other, and, as such, deliberation processes can last up to weeks (depending on the complexities of the case at hand). When a decision (i.e., verdict) has been reached in the personal injury lawsuit, the judge and both parties in the case will be informed, and the judge will read the verdict.