How do Civil Jury Trials Work?
If you’re a victim of personal injury who has filed a lawsuit which is going to trial, you may find it stressful because you don’t know what to expect or what the outcome will be. And you’re not alone, there are still many practicing attorneys out there who are nervous whenever the prospect of trial comes along. In fact, some law firms only deal with pre-trial litigation cases, and as soon as a trial is demanded, those law firms simply send their case to another firm more equipped to handle trials.
However, the attorneys here at Rosen Injury Law are not only experienced trial lawyers, we handle trials with incredible precision, determination, and passion. Without those qualities, we would not have been able to achieve over $100 million in verdicts from all the lawsuits we have handled. Still, you may be wondering, how exactly do jury trials work? And what can you expect from them?
Step One: Pre-Trial Litigation
During the initial phase of a lawsuit, we deal with the opposing party in a manner of ways. There is always the process of discovery, in which both parties exchange evidence which can come in many forms: medical records, surveillance videos, insurance information, independent medical examinations, even witness interviews, also known as depositions.
Depending on the evidence uncovered during discovery, both parties may try to seek a settlement offer. Depending on the offers made, if any, the parties may choose to accept the offer or negotiate different offers. If after a certain period the parties are unable to reach an agreement for a specific settlement, then the case may proceed to a trial.
Step Two: Jury Selection
Once the trial starts, the first step usually is to select a jury. That’s right, the parties on both sides get to choose who will sit on their jury. This process is formally known as “voir dire.” Depending on the complexity of the case, jury selection may last a single day, or up to several weeks and even months.
A random pool of potential jurors are asked to go to a specific courtroom, where the attorneys for both sides will be waiting to question them. The attorneys from both sides then ask the jurors a series of questions to determine whether there is any potential bias, among other factors. If an attorney for either side has reason to believe a juror would be biased during their specific case, they are allowed to strike them from the juror pool. Moreover, each side, plaintiff and defense, are allowed a certain number of “preemptory strikes.” Preemptory strikes are a method in which jurors may be removed from the juror pool without any reason. Once both sides agree to a jury, the next step will be opening statements, where ethe lawyers will tell the jury about their case.
Step Three: The Trial
Like jury selection, the length of a trial will depend on the complexity of the case. Standard negligence cases may be heard in just a few days, whereas more complex medical malpractice cases may last a month merely because of the sheer amount of medical information that has to be shown and explained to the jury.
Before the trial begins, there is a process referred to as Motions in Limine, in which both parties argue to the judge that certain pieces of evidence should be included or excluded. Motions in Limine are always heard outside of the presence of the jury to avoid tainting them by hearing certain evidence that may not be admissible in the trial. Once Motions in Limine are concluded, the trial begins.
Now begins the part of trial that you may be familiar with from watching movies or television. First, both parties present opening statements. Opening statements are an opportunity for both parties to explain to the jury what they will be hearing throughout the course of the trial and what the evidence will likely show. Both parties also present the witnesses that will likely testify, and what they will likely say. The word “likely” is important because it is always possible that some witnesses may not testify, and they may not say certain things while testifying. This can be because of objections, the witnesses are not qualified to testify, or certain witnesses will only testify dependent on what evidence is introduced throughout the trial.
After opening statements are the witness testimony. Plaintiffs, who are the party attempting to prove the liability of the defendant, always present their case first. They are the first party to call their witnesses and pose direct examinations. Direct examinations are a one-on-one questioning between the attorney and the witness. Some witnesses may be laypeople who will testify to what personal knowledge they have of the incident or may testify to the reputation or credibility of other witnesses. Depending on the case, the parties may also introduce expert witnesses, which are witnesses who are experts in a particular field or profession and can provide the jury with reliable information and opinions on specific issues.
After the completion of each direct examination of a witness, the opposing party can perform a cross-examination. Cross-examinations are questions posed to the witness meant to attack and counter what was said on direct examination. The opposing party may also attack the credibility of the witness.
Once the Plaintiffs finish calling their witnesses, it is now the Defense’s turn to present their argument. The same process as before occurs, where the defense calls their own witnesses and performs direct examinations, and then the plaintiffs have the chance to cross-examine their witnesses.
At the end of the defense’s case, both parties can give closing arguments to the jury. Closing arguments are an opportunity for both sides to present one final argument to the jury about why they should decide the case a certain way. Opening statements are referred to as “statements,” and closing arguments are referred to “arguments,” because during closing arguments both sides are permitted to use the evidence that was presented at trial to develop arguments and reasonable inferences about what occurred in this case, and why or why not the defendant is liable for whatever they are accused of.
Step Four: Deliberation
At the end of both parties closing arguments, the jury then sets off to their private room where they debate what decision to reach. The jurors will have access to all the evidence presented at trial and are also allowed to pose questions to both parties regarding any concerns they may have. Jury deliberation could last a couple of minutes, or even days. Jurors must come to a unanimous decision, meaning each juror must arrive to the same conclusion regarding not only the issue of liability, but also the amount of compensation a party should receive. If even one juror votes differently then the rest of the jurors, then the verdict will not be upheld and the defendant will be not liable.
These situations in which a jury cannot reach a unanimous decision are known as “hung juries.” Depending on the case, both parties and the Judge may agree to give the jury an “Allen Charge,” where the Judge explains to the jury that despite the fact they did not achieve a unanimous decision, they must go back into the jury room and try to debate once more. This could be because a new trial will not result in significantly different evidence, and another reasonable jury may come to a similar conclusion. The jurors however have the right to adhere to their final decisions, and if a hung jury is truly the conclusion of the case, then the defense will win.
However, if the jury agrees that the defendant is liable and also agree on the same reward of damages to the plaintiff, then the defense will have lost their case and the plaintiff as a matter of law has the right to compensation.
There are many famous opinions about which parts of the trial are most important. Many say that trials are won during jury selection, because the beliefs, morals and ideology of the jury will decide how they will vote. There are also those who say trials are won during opening statements, because studies have shown that many jurors make up their minds depending on what they heard during opening statements. On the other hand, many say that trials are won during the questioning of the witnesses, because this is when the evidence is presented to the jury and depending on what is said, the jurors may or may not respond well to certain testimony. But there are also those that say trials are won during closing arguments, because this is the final moment the jury listens to both parties, and it is what sticks with them when they go back into the jury room to deliberate.
In reality, every moment of a trial is important. Fortunately, Rosen Injury Law is composed of experienced trial attorneys who recognize that each second of a trial requires the utmost special care to best represent the interests of their client. Contact us at www.roseninjury.com or 954-787-1500 to receive the very best in civil litigation attorneys.