Personal Injury Court Procedure: What to Expect if You Go to Trial

Most personal injury cases settle long before they reach the trial stage. Even fairly straightforward cases can take a while to reach an acceptable settlement. Many plaintiffs don’t want to delay a resolution any further, even if it means they could receive a higher payout.

There’s also an element of risk, and a decision could go either way. When you put your case to a jury, you give up control to a certain extent. A jury could find in your favor, which could mean a fairly hefty payout, but they could also decide against you. This risk on both parties results in many cases settling on an agreed sum, even if it can take some back and forth to get there.

While it’s likely that your personal injury claim will settle, and you won’t even have to entertain the idea of standing in front of a judge, personal injury court cases do happen. But what is the personal injury court procedure? Here, we explain what to expect if you go to trial.

How Many Personal Injury Cases Go to Court?

Given the risk associated with going to trial and the fact that many personal injury cases result in a satisfactory settlement, it’s no surprise that the percentage of civil cases that go to trial is in the low single digits.

So why might a personal injury case end up in court?

Typically, it’s because the settlement offer on the table is well below what a plaintiff (or claimant) is entitled to.

Insurance companies are notorious for making low offers. After all, they’re in the business of paying out as little as possible. Sometimes, they’ll use underhand tactics to dispute liability and decrease the amount they have to pay out. Such tactics include putting pressure on emotional plaintiffs to settle early to avoid lengthy negotiations and tricking accident victims into apologizing so that they can attribute blame.

If an insurance firm is particularly stubborn and your lawyer believes you deserve more and that you have a strong case, they may advise taking your case to trial.

The Personal Injury Court Process

While the outcome of a personal injury court case hinges on a single moment — when a jury reaches a verdict — much of the work that goes into preparing for a case happens in the months and years before it even goes to court.

Personal Injury Court Procedure Phase 1: Discovery

Known as the discovery phase, this is the process of gathering evidence. The discovery phase begins when settlement negotiations are unsuccessful, and your personal injury lawyer files the paperwork to bring a lawsuit against the person or party responsible for your injury.

The discovery phase primarily involves asking questions through in-person interviews (known as depositions) and written questions (interrogatories). The answers to such questions are recorded and given under oath.

Depending on your case, the depositions and interrogatories your personal injury lawyer presents might include interviews with key witnesses to your accident. Your lawyer will also seek testimony from medical experts who can attest to the seriousness of your injuries and their long-term impact.

Personal Injury Court Procedure Phase 2: Jury Selection

Before the trial can begin, you need a jury. The jury will listen to all the evidence being presented and deliberate on the verdict once all evidence is in. Both parties engage in jury selection, during which both sides will ask the potential jurors questions to determine who is a good fit.

For example, if you’re heading to court because you were in a car accident, and a potential juror recently lost a loved one in a car accident, they are likely sympathetic to your injuries. While this person would be a worthwhile juror for you, the defense counsel would have grounds to strike the juror because they may not be truly impartial.

Potentially biased jurors will be eliminated  during the jury selection process until 12 jurors remain.

Personal Injury Court Procedure Phase 3: Opening Statements

The trial will formally begin with opening statements. Here, both sides have the opportunity to summarize the case and what they plan to present during the trial.

As the plaintiff, the burden of proof lies with you. It is your — or your lawyer’s — responsibility to prove that the defendant was negligent and that this negligence caused your injuries, so your attorney will make the first opening statement.

There is no limit on how long an opening statement might take, but it’s typically in the best interests of everyone involved for your lawyer to get their points across clearly and succinctly. Some judges may impose their own limits on how long an opening statement should be, and your lawyer should also be mindful of the jury. Attention spans can wane, but you do have the advantage of a jury being alert at the very beginning of the trial.

Once both sides have delivered their opening statements, the trial moves to the next phase in the personal injury court process: presenting the evidence.

Personal Injury Court Procedure Phase 4: Presenting the Evidence

This part of the personal injury court procedure typically takes the longest. In this phase, both sides will call any witnesses they wish to question and present documents that serve to prove their case.

For example, your lawyer may call upon a medical expert to testify. During the testimony, your lawyer may ask the witness to comment on previously submitted x-rays or other medical records to show the extent of your injuries.

Once your attorney has finished questioning a witness, the defense has the opportunity to cross-examine them. During this process, you may be called to testify about how your life has changed as a result of your accident and the injuries you sustained. Your personal injury lawyer will make sure you’re at ease and fully prepared to answer their questions on the stand. They’ll also advise you on what defense counsel may ask you during cross.

Once your attorney has questioned all witnesses and submitted all evidence, they will “rest,” and the process will begin again on the defense’s side.

Personal Injury Court Procedure Phase 5: Closing Arguments

Once both sides have presented the evidence and the defense officially rests, the case will move into closing arguments. Both attorneys will recap the case and all the evidence presented to persuade the jury to find in their favor during this part of the personal injury court process.

Personal Injury Court Procedure Phase 6: Jury Deliberation and Delivering the Verdict

After closing arguments have been presented, the judge will provide jury instructions and dismiss the jury from the court to begin deliberations. It’s important to note the burden of proof in personal injury court cases.

You may be familiar with the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is the burden of proof in criminal cases, where the jury must find a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt — otherwise, they must deliver a not guilty verdict.

The burden of proof in civil cases is slightly different, and the burden on the plaintiff is not as high. Instead, the standard is “by a preponderance of the evidence”. In layman’s terms, this means more likely than not.

To put this in practical terms, a jury may have some doubts about the weight of a witness testimony. They may not even believe that their account was true. However, suppose the majority of the evidence points to the defendant being negligent and causing your injury. In that case, this will satisfy the burden of proof — the defendant was, by a preponderance of the evidence, negligent in causing your injury.

The jury won’t just consider the evidence and whether a defendant was at fault in the jury room. They will also consider the financial losses you’ve suffered to determine an appropriate settlement. They will also determine if punitive damages are appropriate. These damages (also known as exemplary damages) are designed to punish the defendant for their behavior. A typical example is if the defendant caused your accident because they were intoxicated.

Once the jury has reached a majority verdict, they will return to court to deliver it. In Texas, a unanimous verdict is not required in a civil trial. However, 10 of the 12 jurors must all agree.

If the jury finds in favor of the defense, the defendant will be found not liable for your injuries, and you won’t receive any compensation.

A favorable verdict will result in an award to you, the plaintiff.

If your lawyer took on your case on a contingency basis — meaning you only pay legal fees if the case is successful — the costs will come out of your final award.

The personal injury court procedure can be long and trying, but your lawyer will do all they can to relieve stress and fight for a successful outcome. In most cases, you won’t have to think about going to trial, but it’s always worth understanding what will happen if you can’t get the settlement you deserve.

Contact our compassionate and determined personal injury lawyers in Texas if you’re in an accident and believe you’re entitled to compensation.

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