What Actually Happens in a Trial
November 2, 2017 • Trial Law
We have all seen dramatic courtroom scenes play out on TV and in movies. From Col. Jessup (Jack Nicholson) screaming “You can’t handle the truth!” in a Few Good Men to Vinny Gambini (Joe Pesci) being berated in open court for his poor wardrobe choices in My Cousin Vinny — we’ve been served a false version of what a courtroom trial actually looks like. Certainly at times what goes on in the courtroom can get intense, but generally it does not come close to the antics we’re used to seeing on the big screen.
If you were injured and you are bringing a personal injury lawsuit, or if you will soon be serving jury duty, read on to learn more about what actually happens in a civil trial.
What Happens in a Personal Injury Trial
Once a trial begins, the following typically happens:
- Jury selection (also known as voir dire)
- Opening Statements by the Plaintiff’s Attorney then the Defendant’s Attorney.
- Witness testimony and cross-examination.
- Closing Arguments by the Plaintiff’s Attorney then the Defendant’s Attorney.
- Jury instructions are given by the presiding Judge.
- Jury deliberations and verdict.
Attorneys on both sides will ask questions of potential jurors to determine juror attitudes, biases, and their ability to truly be an impartial juror. The attorneys will inquire about prospective jurors’ life experiences, and will also ask questions about their friends, families, and acquaintances. This is in an effort to uncover any potential biases for or against one of the parties in the law suit.
The jury pool is typically drawn randomly from drivers license records or voting registration lists. A 2012 survey found that 27% of U.S. adults said they had served on a jury.
Once the jury is selected the trial will officially begin with opening statements from both parties. In a personal injury case, the Plaintiff’s attorney delivers his or her opening statements first, followed by the Defendant’s attorney.
This is an opportunity to present your side of the case, and explain to the jury what happened, the extent of your injuries, and what we will prove over the course of the trial. It is also an opportunity to begin to garner support from the jurors.
Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination
This is the “meat” of the trial so to speak. During this stage each side presents its key evidence and arguments to the jury. This is when each side has calls their witnesses to the stand to testify.
In our case-in-chief we will present the jury will our evidence and arguments so that we may convince them that the defendant is legally responsible for your injuries and damages.
After each side has finished presenting their case-in-chief, Plaintiff’s attorney delivers his or her closing arguments, followed by the Defendant’s attorney. Closing arguments are similar to opening statements, but in some ways are even more important. This is our last chance to convince the jury that you deserve compensation for your injuries.
After closing arguments are delivered, jury instructions are then given by the presiding Judge. Jury instructions provide the jurors with the legal standards they must apply in deciding whether or not the defendant should be held liable for your damages.
For example, in the jury instructions the Judge will explain that the legal standard by which personal injury claims must be considered is by “preponderance of the evidence.” This standard can be thought of as determining what evidence is more convincing and more likely truthful or accurate. In contrast, “preponderance of the evidence” is a lower legal standard that “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is the legal standard applied in criminal proceedings.
Jury Deliberations and Verdict
Once the jury instructions are given, the jury is then excused to deliberate. This is when they review the evidence presented and come to a decision on whether or not the Defendant is legally liable for the Plaintiff’s injuries, and if so, for what amount.
In Nebraska, in a civil case if the jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict within 6 hours of deliberations, then a verdict arrived at by 10 of a 12-person jury or 5 of a 6-person jury may be returned.
We Are Seasoned Personal Injury Trial Attorneys
We hope this article helps you better understand what really happens in a trial. Most cases reach a settlement agreement before trial; however, from the start we prepare each case as if it will go to trial.
The attorneys of Matthew G. Miller are seasoned jury trial lawyers. What does this mean for your case? It means we are equipped to get you the best possible outcome. Many insurance companies decide how much someone will recover based on whether or not their lawyer actually picks juries and tries cases to a verdict. Insurance companies know us as attorneys who routinely try cases to verdict.
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We help people who have been injured due to the negligence or wrongful conduct of another party get the compensation they deserve. Contact us or call (402) 558-4900 to schedule a free personal injury case consultation.
Matthew G. Miller serves clients throughout Eastern Nebraska and parts of Western Iowa including Douglas County, Sarpy County, Lancaster County, and Pottawattamie County, as well as the cities of Omaha, Lincoln, Bellevue, Papillion, Fremont, Blair, Elkhorn, and Council Bluffs.