In many cases, the biggest decision a personal injury plaintiff makes is whether to accept a settlement offer from the insurance company or proceed to trial. Personal injury trials are not nearly as glamorous as what you see on TV. In the real world, jury trials require a great deal of preparation and dedication on the part of everyone involved. Accordingly, the decision to go to trial should not be made lightly. Our San Antonio personal injury trial lawyers can help you evaluate the insurance company’s settlement offer, and lay out the pros and cons of going to trial. Ultimately, though, the decision is yours. Here is an overview of what you can expect, should you choose to proceed to trial:
The first part of a personal injury trial is jury selection (also known as voir dire). The goal of jury selection is for all of the jury members to be unbiased, allowing them to view the trial evidence objectively and reach a fair and impartial verdict. During voir dire, the pool of potential jurors is asked a series of questions designed to expose bias. These questions include, for example, whether any potential juror knows anyone else in the jury pool; whether any potential juror knows a lawyer or party to the case; and whether a potential juror has ever worked as a health care provider or for an insurance company. The attorneys then are typically allowed to ask follow-up questions of specific potential jurors in order to further expose biases, and they may be permitted to strike (remove) a certain number of potential jurors from the jury pool for various reasons. The jury members are then selected from the remaining members of the jury pool.
Once the jury members have been selected and are empaneled, your attorney will make an opening statement. The purpose of an opening statement is to provide jury members with an overview of what the evidence will show in the case. The jury members will be told not to consider opening statements as evidence. Immediately after your attorney makes an opening statement, the defendant’s attorney will have the opportunity to make an opening statement.
The Plaintiff’s Case
As the plaintiff (that is, as the injured party who filed the lawsuit), you get to tell your side of the story first. Your lawyer will do this through “direct examination” or questioning of witnesses. During this phase of the trial, your attorney most likely will call you to the witness stand, as well as any lay witnesses and expert witnesses who can help prove your case. In personal injury cases, expert witnesses are typically doctors or other healthcare providers. Lay witnesses might be eyewitnesses to the accident, or passengers in your vehicle, or your family, friends or co-workers. Through direct examination of these witnesses, your San Antonio personal injury trial lawyer will tell the jurors how the accident happened, how your injuries were sustained, which body parts were injured, and the nature and extent of your injuries, medical treatment and lost wages.
During direct exam, various paper exhibits, such as police reports, medical records, and/or medical bills are introduced into evidence. Paper exhibits introduced into evidence at trial can be viewed by the jury members during their deliberations.
Cross-Examination and Redirect Examination
During cross-examination, the opposing attorney has the opportunity to ask you and your witnesses very focused follow-up questions. These questions are typically “leading” questions and are structured in such a way as to require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. The purpose of cross-examination is for the opposing attorney to expose weaknesses and poke holes in your case. Cross-examination questions tend to focus on prior injuries, pre-existing medical conditions, and gaps in medical treatment. Following the defense attorney’s cross-examination of a witness, your attorney will have the opportunity to ask some final, follow-up questions.
The Defense Case
Once your attorney has presented all the evidence in your favor, the defense will have an opportunity to present its case, through direct examination of witnesses. Your San Antonio personal injury trial lawyer will have an opportunity to cross-examine any witnesses called by the defense.
At the conclusion of the trial, each attorney is given the opportunity to make a closing argument. As with opening statements, your attorney will go first, and jurors will be instructed that closing arguments are not to be construed as evidence in the case. Rather, the purpose of closing arguments is to tie all of the facts and evidence together, to request a favorable verdict, and, for the plaintiff, to request damages. After both sides have made their closing arguments, your attorney will have one last opportunity to make a rebuttal argument.
The Judge’s Role at Trial
In most personal injury trials, the judge’s role is to make rulings on various evidentiary issues that arise from time to time over the course of the trial. For example, when attorneys make objections based upon the Rules of Evidence, the judge must sustain or overrule those objections. Once all of the evidence in the case has been presented, the judge will instruct the jury members on the law they are to apply in reaching their verdict, and jury deliberations may begin.
Personal injury trials are complex. In some cases, though, a trial is your best option for obtaining fair compensation for the harm done to you. Our experienced San Antonio personal injury trial lawyers will guide you through the trial process and make sure you present your strongest case to the jurors. If you would like to talk with us about your situation, please use the form on this page to reach us by email, or call 210-899-5386 to schedule a free initial consultation.