What Happens at Trial?

The judge or jury in a personal injury trial usually decides using the preponderance of evidence to determine whether the defendant has any liability in the committed act. The trial gives the plaint the opportunity to be able to argue his case. The trial also provides the defendant the chance to defend himself against the allegations being claimed by the plaintiff.

Although a trial is considered as the most high-profile phase of the personal injury lawsuit process, the vast majority of disputes involving personal injury are being resolved even before the trial arises– and in some cases before a lawsuit is even filed. The procedure may include Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) like abitration and mediation. The parties may also opt to just settle in their private capacity.

There are six main phases in each of the complete personal injury when trying to choose what kind of claim to file.

  • Choosing a Jury
  • Opening Statements
  • Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination
  • Closing Arguments
  • Jury Instruction
  • Jury Deliberation and Verdict

Choosing a Jury

The selection of the jury is really one of the steps in the claim. This is with the exception of cases that are tried only before a judge. There are potential jurors and these jurors will be questioned by the attorney to make sure that they are not biased and would be able to work independently on the case. Potential jurors may also be excused based on the way that they answer the questions by the jurors.

At this point of actual selection, there may be an exclusion of jurors based on peremptory challenges and reasonable cause. Issued that can be considered in peremptory challenge include gender and ethnicity in civil cases. This is in recognition of the fact that the jurors should be able to decide the case solely based on the merit.

Opening Statements

The first dialogue is scheduled after the jury has been selected. Witnesses are still not required during the opening statement.

The plaintiff should be able to demonstrate the legal liability of the defendant to the plaintiff. The defendant may have to wait for the time when the claims of the plaintiff are concluded, to be able to set up his own defense.

  • The plaintiff is the one that presents the facts of the accident or injury. The plaintiff should be able to let the court know on the alleged role of the defendant in the case. The statement should be clear to the jury so as they will able to make a reasonable decision.
  • The attorney of the defendant is the one who is in charge of the interpretation of the facts for the defendant. The lawyer is tasked to set the stage for rebuttal of the plaintiff’s claims. The end goal of the defense is to prevent recovery by the plaintiff from the defendant.

Lawyers who represent each party may be allowed to give their own distinct opening arguments. This is what happens when a personal injury lawsuit involves various and multiple parties.

Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination

Any personal inquiry would include a “case-in-chief” stage. During this stage, each side presents the key evidence and the arguments are being raised in front of the jury.

The plaintiff follows a method in setting forth the evidence. This is the plaintiff’s attempt to convince the jury that the one legally responsible for the injury of the plaintiff is the defendant. During this point, the plaintiff is already allowed to call the witnesses and the experts to prove the point and affirm the facts and claims of the plaintiff. Physical evidence like photographs, medical reports and other documents are allowed to be introduced here. More complicated personal injury law suits would usually need the participation of experts who can determine whether there will be defective products as what is being claimed or whether medical practice has really been committed.

The process of having the witness testimony usually adheres to the following formula:

  • The first step is for the witness to be sworn in and calling him to make sure that he is taking an oath to tell the truth.
  • A direct examination is employed to question the witness. In this process, the information is elicited and the question-and-answer to strengthen the position of the party in the dispute.
  • The opposing party has the opportunity to conduct a cross examination after the direct examination has already been conducted. The purpose of cross-examination is to poke holes in the witness’s story, attack their credibility, or otherwise discredit the witness and his or her testimony.
  • There is also an examination of the witness that is called re-direct examination. This is done after cross-examination and that the originally called witness will still be questioned.

After the plaintiff concludes its case-in-chief and “rests,” the defendant can present its own evidence in the same proactive manner, seeking to show that it is not liable for the plaintiff’s claimed harm. The defense may call its own witnesses to the stand, and can present any of its own independent evidence in an effort to refute or downplay the key elements of the plaintiff’s legal allegations. Once the defense has rested, the plaintiff has an opportunity to respond to the defense’s arguments through a process known as “rebuttal,” a brief period during which the plaintiff may only contradict the defense’s evidence (rather than present new arguments). Sometimes, the defense may in turn have a chance to respond to the prosecution’s rebuttal.

Once the plaintiff and defendant each have had an opportunity to present their case and to challenge the evidence presented by the other, both sides “rest,” meaning that no more evidence will be presented to the jury before closing arguments are made.

Closing Arguments

Similar to the opening statement, the closing argument offers the plaintiff and the defendant in a personal injury dispute a chance to “sum up” the case, recapping the evidence in a light favorable to their respective positions. This is the final chance for the parties to address the jury prior to deliberations, so in closing arguments the plaintiff seeks to show why the evidence requires the jury to find the defendant legally responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries. In turn, the defendant tries to show that the plaintiff has fallen short of establishing the defendant’s liability for any civil judgment in the plaintiff’s favor.

Jury Instruction

After both sides of the case have had a chance to present their evidence and make a closing argument, the next step toward a verdict is jury instruction — a process in which the judge gives the jury the set of legal standards it will need to decide whether the defendant should be held accountable for the plaintiff’s alleged harm.

The judge decides what legal standards should apply to the defendant’s case, based on the personal injury claims at issue and the evidence presented during the trial. Often, this process takes place with input and argument from both the plaintiff and the defendant. The judge then instructs the jury on those relevant legal principles decided upon, including findings the jury will need to make in order to arrive at certain conclusions. The judge also describes key concepts, such as the “preponderance of the evidence” legal standard; defines any specific injury claims or “torts” the jury may consider (i.e. fraud and infliction of emotional distress); and discusses different types of damages (i.e. compensatory and punitive) — all based on the evidence presented at trial.

The case then goes “to the jury.”

Jury Deliberation and Verdict

The jurors would usually receive instruction from the judge. After receiving such, the group will consider the case and there will be a deliberation on how to go about the case. Deliberation is the first opportunity for the jury to discuss the case — a methodical process that can last from a few hours to several weeks. Once the jury reaches a decision, the jury foreperson informs the judge, and the judge usually announces the verdict in open court.

In most states in this country, the laws require that there will be a 12-person jury in a personal injury case. However, there will be less requirements in other states.

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