If you’re thinking of suing an individual or entity responsible for causing your personal injury, one of the first questions to cross your mind will likely be: “Will this case go to trial?”
There’s no certain way to answer this question in regard to your own case. But statistically speaking, most personal injury lawsuits don’t go to trial. Instead, they’re settled between the parties in negotiation sessions held outside of the courtroom. In fact, only 4 to 5 percent of personal injury lawsuits actually go to trial, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Still, it’s possible – if not likely – that your personal injury case will ultimately go to trial, which means that it’s important to understand what to expect.
Why Cases Go to Trial
Personal injury lawsuits can be expensive and time-consuming to conduct, especially if there are multiple depositions that must be taken, expert witnesses that must be deposed, and other court-related costs. There’s also no guarantee on the outcome.
Consequently, your personal injury attorney – whose job is to get you the largest award possible – will first reach out to the other side to determine whether a satisfactory settlement offer might be forthcoming. If this is so, you’ll simply sign the settlement agreement and that will be the end of it.
There are many advantages to a settlement, including the fact that you’ll get your award much sooner than you’d get with a trial (which can often take many months to prepare for and conduct). The amount of money you’ll ultimately receive might also be larger, given that your attorney will be spared the court costs he/she would otherwise have to deduct from the amount you’ll ultimately share.
In many cases, however, there may either be no offer from the party that injured you, or an offer far below the amount necessary to make you whole after your injury. If so, and your attorney believes that your personal injury case is strong enough to convince a judge or a jury, he/she will initiate the steps required to bring your case to trial.
What to Expect at Trial
A lot will happen before your personal injury trial begins. First, there will be discovery: the process in which your attorney will depose witnesses, perform research, and develop information relevant to your case. At the same time, the opposing side will do its own research, possibly depose you or other witnesses, and require you to release records, typically including medical records, employment records, and other documents.
During the discovery phase of the trial, each side must share all the developed information with the other side to ensure that there are no surprises at trial. The discovery phase of your personal injury case can take a long time; perhaps, many months. It’s important to note that either side always has an opportunity to restart settlement talks during the discovery phase – and at any point prior to the time that a trial verdict is issued.
If your personal injury case goes to trial, here is how it will unfold:
- Jury Selection. Your personal injury attorney and counsel for the opposing side will each get a chance to select jurors likely to be sympathetic to each side’s arguments. If it appears that a juror has pre-existing prejudices about an issue relevant to your case, he/she may be rejected from the list of jurors that is ultimately empanelled.
- Opening Statements. Your personal injury attorney will briefly state what happened to you, who is at fault, and why you should be entitled to the damages you seek. The attorney for the other side will likely tell a very different story, for example, that your injuries are pre-existing, that you are partially at fault, that the accident could not have been avoided, or that you are not entitled to the full amount of the award you seek.
- Testimony and Cross/Examination. Each side will have a chance to produce its own witnesses to testify in court. This testimony will be challenged by the attorney from the other side, who will attempt to undermine its value by pointing out inconsistencies, factual errors, or other problems with their testimony.
- Closing Arguments. Each side – after all the evidence is produced and testimony is taken – will summarize its respective arguments in the most convincing way possible.
- Jury Instruction. Before the jury is sent to deliberate, the judge will explain the laws relevant to your case, issue specific instructions about how to apply these laws to the facts of your personal injury case, and advise the jury as to how they should analyze the evidence presented.
- Deliberation and Verdict. The jury will repair to a chamber and deliberate – for as long as required – to reach a verdict, either favorable or unfavorable, to your case.
Is it Necessary for My Attorney to Be Trial-Ready?
Given the statistical likelihood that your personal injury case will be settled either prior to or during a trial, one might fairly ask why it’s essential to select a personal injury attorney who is always ready for trial. Shouldn’t one instead choose an attorney who’s just good at getting settlements from insurance companies?
Doing so would be a mistake; here’s why:
Credibility. During the pre-trial discovery phase of your trial, the opposing side will have a chance to see how strong your case is, as well as who exactly is representing you. Experienced attorneys are more likely to provide a stronger, more compelling, better organized body of evidence than those who lack such experience; consequently, it’s more likely that the opposing side will reason that the risks of mounting a trial will outweigh the benefits, thus hastening a favorable settlement offer.
Competence in the Courtroom. There’s no question that an experienced attorney will function better in the high-pressured environment of a courtroom trial than one without such experience. Being able to assemble a compelling body of evidence, make reasonable, powerful arguments, conduct an efficient trial, and gain the trust of a jury isn’t something that’s taught in school – these are skills that only can be mastered from years of actual practice.
All of the attorneys at Greenberg Law P.C. are trial lawyers with courtroom experience. If you’ve been injured and wish to speak with us, we’d be glad to have a conversation with you about your experience.