If a personal injury case cannot be settled, it will go to trial in front of a judge and jury. A personal injury case is a civil case, which simply means a legal dispute between two or more parties. Here are the steps you can expect at the trial of most personal injury cases.
Step 1: Voir Dire — Jury Selection
The case begins with the judge calling 36-40 people from a jury pool into the courtroom. The plaintiff and defense attorneys will ask the potential jurors a series of questions to eliminate any jurors who cannot be impartial. In most cases, 12 jurors will be selected to decide the case.
Step 2: Opening Statements
Both attorneys will provide to the jury their opening statements, which are an outline or summary of what each side expects the evidence to show during the trial.
Step 3: Plaintiff’s Case in Chief
Next, the plaintiff gets to present his or her side of the case to the jury. The attorneys will call witnesses and present evidence, such as documents and testimony.
Step 4: Defendant’s Case in Chief
The next step is the defendant’s case, where the defense puts up any evidence it has to dispute the plaintiff’s evidence. Sometimes, the defense will not present any evidence if it believes the plaintiff has not proved his or her case.
Step 5: Closing Statements
In this step, the attorneys argue their case based on the evidence that has been presented. Their job is to explain to the jurors why they should decide in favor of their client and what, if anything, to award.
Step 6: Jury Instructions
At this point, the judge will read the law(s) to the jury and offer instructions regarding what jurors may consider when trying to reach a decision.
Step 7: Jury Deliberations and Verdict
After the judge finishes giving jury instructions, jurors are excused from the courtroom to begin their deliberations. If they are able to reach a unanimous decision, they inform the bailiff, who notifies the judge that a verdict has been reached. The jury then will return to the courtroom, and the verdict will be read in open court. If a unanimous decision is not reached, a mistrial will be declared, and the case will have to be tried again.
– Joel Williams is a partner at Williams|Elleby, a Kennesaw-based personal injury law firm. www.gatrialattorney.com.