What Happens in a Personal Injury Trial?
Obtaining compensation from an at-fault party in California takes filing a personal injury claim. The first phase is submitting an insurance claim for the damages suffered. The vast majority of personal injury cases end here, with a successful insurance settlement. A small percentage of claims, however, proceed to trial to fight for fair compensation for the injured party. Knowing what to expect from a personal injury trial could help you and your Los Angeles personal injury attorney properly prepare for the process.
What Is The Goal Of A Personal Injury Trial?
A personal injury trial is a chance for both sides of the case – the injured party (plaintiff) and the allegedly at-fault party (defendant) – to tell their stories and present evidence. A judge or jury will listen to both sides of the case and decide whether the defendant’s fault or negligence is more likely to be true than not true. If so, the courts will grant the plaintiff a judgment award to pay for his or her damages.
A personal injury trial is an opportunity for a plaintiff to argue his or her case in an attempt to secure a judgment against the defendant. The four main elements a plaintiff must prove to win in most personal injury trials are duty of care, breach of duty, causation and damages. Most personal injury claims require proof of a defendant’s breach of the duty to exercise reasonable care (negligence). Then, the plaintiff’s attorney must prove a connection between the defendant’s negligence and the damages being sought.
Many different processes happen before the date of the trial. Pre-trial processes focus on gathering information and evidence. An investigation of the accident comes first, followed by the collection of any available evidence of negligence or liability. Evidence could include eyewitness testimonies, photographic proof and official documents such as medical records. Then, the discovery phase allows both sides of the case to discover what evidence the opposing side has collected, typically through a series of interrogations called depositions. A personal injury lawyer can help you through depositions, advising you on what and what not to say during questioning.
Personal Injury Trial Procedure
The courts will assign the date on which your personal injury trial will take place. If you have a trial by jury, the first step will be jury selection. The judge and the lawyers on both sides of the case will ask a pool of potential jurors questions until they have narrowed down what they believe is a fair group of 12 jurors. Then, the case will proceed to trial.
- Opening statements. In most cases, the plaintiff and the defendant will have attorneys representing them. The attorneys will give opening statements – overviews of what they will attempt to prove throughout the trial – at the beginning of the case.
- Testimony and cross-examination. Then, each side of the case will have the opportunity to present witness testimony and evidence. This is a critical part of a personal injury trial, as the plaintiff has the burden to prove negligence through a preponderance of evidence..
- Closing arguments. After both sides have questioned and cross-examined all witnesses and evidence, they will give their closing arguments. These are summaries of the facts they believe they have established.
The judge will then give the jury their instructions. The jury will receive the legal standards they must use to decide whether the defendant is liable for your damages. The jury will deliberate for as long as it takes to achieve a sufficient majority decision. Most states require unanimous decisions by all 12 jurors; however, some states allow 9 to 3 or other majority votes. If the jury decides in your favor, it will award an amount deemed reasonable for your damages. If the jury finds the defendant not liable, you will not receive a judgment award. Hire an attorney to guide you through the complex personal injury trial process.