When the parties to a lawsuit cannot voluntarily settle their dispute, the claims at issue are decided at trial. A trial is your opportunity to have your case heard in court. The fact finder, either a jury or a judge, will hear testimony, view evidence, and ultimately decide factual disputes, issues of law and liability, and whether defendants owe compensation for their actions.
There are several distinct parts of every civil trial, each important in its own way.
Jury selection, or voir dire, occurs at the beginning of jury trial proceedings. Plaintiffs’ and defendants’ attorneys conduct an interview-like discussion with a pool of jurors, asking questions about their beliefs, their occupations, and their ability to fairly hear the present case. Through this process, counsel may move the court to dismiss a prospective juror for cause or without cause.
Impaneling a fair jury is essential to achieving a just result at trial. Attorneys work diligently throughout voir dire to select a jury open to delivering justice.
During opening statements, attorneys have the opportunity to address the jury directly. At this stage, your attorney will outline your case, establish rapport, and lay the groundwork for the facts and themes that support awarding compensation.
Following opening statements, the parties call witnesses to testify regarding the subject matter of the case. Each party receives an opportunity to call witnesses of their own and to cross-examine witnesses called by another party.
This stage of a trial accounts for the bulk of the trial’s time and requires the bulk of your attorney’s preparation. Witness testimony serves as the primary method for introducing facts and opinions that will be dispositive of the case.
As with opening arguments, closing arguments allow the attorneys to address the jury directly and summarize the information presented during witness testimony. Attorneys use closing arguments to highlight key facts and reinforce their rationale for why their client deserves judgment.
In a jury trial, the presiding judge will give lengthy and detailed instructions to the jury regarding the law applicable to the lawsuit in dispute. Attorneys take great care to propose and fashion specific jury instructions to define the issues to be decided. Well-crafted jury instructions can make a difference in the result of a trial, so attorneys count this stage as among the most important.
After instructions have been given, the jury leaves the courtroom and deliberates collectively. During this time, the parties must wait as the jury reaches its conclusion.
Despite misconceptions, trials occur very infrequently. The overwhelming majority of lawsuits settle before trial begins, and many trials end prematurely due to settlement during the course of proceedings.
Attorneys and parties tend to prefer settlements because they offer certainty. While no party receives their best possible outcome, no party risks the possibility of a losing their case and being subjected to the unknowns that accompany a jury trial verdict.
While it is important to retain counsel that can adequately represent you at trial, remember that trials are an uncommon, last-resort resolution to most personal injury cases.