Our team at Finney Injury Law loves helping people settle their personal injury cases long before they reach the point of proceeding to court. It means less time and strain on our clients as they’re recovering from their traumatic experiences and injuries. As experienced trial lawyers, we’re also unafraid to take a case to court when we feel the need is warranted, we believe in fair compensation and justice for injury victims above all else.
We might find ourselves in Missouri courtrooms often, but we realize that many of our clients don’t. That’s why we always do our best to prepare our clients for what to expect and how to proceed when their case reaches trial. For most of our clients, this will hopefully be the first and last time they find themselves in a court of law, and we intend to make the process as clear and un-burdensome as possible.
When You Can (and Should) Proceed to Trial
Each personal injury case is uniquely different in the way it proceeds legally. No matter if your injury is the result of a motor vehicle accident, slip and fall or other premises liability injury, childcare negligence injury, or anything in between, your case is unique to you. As such, it can be difficult to determine from the beginning whether or not your case will ultimately proceed to a personal injury trial, but it may ultimately be what our legal team recommends as the next best step to take.
Most personal injury disputes never end up going to trial because they can be fairly resolved via a settlement agreement between the two parties involved—the plaintiff and the defendant. If a settlement can’t be reached this way, alternative resolution options like arbitration and mediation may be utilized. If even after all these steps are taken, either the plaintiff’s lawyer doesn’t agree to the settlement offered by the defendant, or the defendant is refusing to change their settlement offering, then the case may proceed to trial.
Proceeding to trial means you, the plaintiff, and your lawyers have the opportunity to further argue your case in the hope of obtaining just and fair compensation in accordance with the harm that has been caused to you by the defendant. When fair justice is still owed, and we believe we can make a strong case for you at trial to help you achieve it, we will always encourage you to proceed, though it’s ultimately your decision to make.
What a Trial Actually Looks Like
If you and your legal team do decide to proceed to trial, you’ll experience 6 phases to reach the completion of your trial:
- Jury Selection
- Opening Statements
- Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination
- Closing Arguments
- Jury Instructions
- Jury Deliberation and Verdict
Jury Selection: Before arguments in a courtroom with a judge and jury can officially commence, the jury who will determine the outcome of the trial must be selected. This is largely a process that each side’s counsel will handle, but you, as the plaintiff, will be present in the room for a short period of time to introduce the plaintiff. Potential jurors will be brought into the court, given a description of the case, and answer questions from the lawyers. Your lawyer will determine which jurors they would like to stay on for your trial, and which they would prefer to be excused. This process can take several days to several weeks depending on the complexity of the case.
Opening Statements: After a jury has been selected, the first day of the official personal injury trial largely consists of each attorney taking the opportunity to openly address the jury in a carefully crafted statement describing what the evidence in the case will show. The plaintiff’s attorney usually goes first, but attorneys representing each party, whether there are multiple plaintiffs or defendants, have the opportunity to make an opening statement.
Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination: This is the longest stage of trials and is the stage most people imagine first when they think about legal trials because it’s the process most represented in movies and television: the stage when each side presents their key evidence to the jury and calls witnesses and experts to testify in an effort to strengthen their case and establish facts. Sharing these details will also help your attorney establish the kind of damages you are entitled to, but there are specific rules and guidelines for how attorneys can or cannot argue their case.
As a plaintiff in the case, you are not required to testify, though you will likely be called on, and often, testifying can be helpful to your case. Your lawyer will prepare you with their own questions ahead of time, as well as with potential questions from the opposing counsel as best they can. In the case of a personal injury trial, the defendant on trial will also most often take the stand at some point as well.
Any witnesses, including yourself, will first be sworn in, and then the party who called them will question them through “direct examination.” After, the other party has an opportunity to also question them through “cross-examination.” Then, the initial party has an additional opportunity to question the witness before the other party “rests.” After that, a stage of “rebuttal” may occur, during which time each side may attempt to contradict the other, but will not be allowed to present any new evidence. When both sides finally rest, no more evidence can or will be presented, and testimony and examination concludes.
Closing Arguments: Much like opening statements, closing arguments give each attorney an opportunity to summarize the events that occurred during witness testimony and cross-examination. Again, this is a carefully written and practiced speech that your attorney will craft to deliver on your behalf, and it will ask the jury to consider your side’s position, the facts of the case, and the relevant laws involved in order to make a just and favorable decision. Most often, the plaintiff will go first, then the defense, and the plaintiff can then provide a brief rebuttal if they so choose.
Jury Instruction: While both the plaintiff and defendant and their legal teams are still in the courtroom, the judge will provide the jury with the legal standards they will need to adhere to in order to determine whether or not the defendant should be held accountable. The judge may describe key concepts of the case, important findings that were presented, relevant injury claims, and the damages they can consider. This phase usually lasts no more than 30 minutes.
Jury Deliberation and Verdict: This phase occurs behind closed doors, outside the courtroom where the jurors can’t be influenced, so you as the plaintiff will likely either remain somewhere in the courthouse if the verdict is predicted to be made relatively soon, or you may be dismissed to go home and wait if deliberations are expected to take longer. The jury takes this opportunity to discuss the case, ask questions about testimony, or re-examine the evidence. If a question needs answering, the jury foreperson will write it down to be shared with the judge, who will review it and share it with the attorneys so a decision can be made about how to respond.
Once the jury has reached a decision, they return to the courtroom jury box and the attorneys and respective parties are brought back into the courtroom. The judge reviews the verdict from the jury and shares the verdict to the open court by reading it out loud. In the state of Missouri, for a personal injury case (rather than a criminal case) only 9 or more of the 12 jurors is needed to render a verdict. If no such majority has been reached, the judge may declare a mistrial, in which case events start over from the beginning anew. But if they have reached a verdict, they will also often share how much compensation the plaintiff should be awarded. And thanks to shifting cultural attitudes, in recent years, these values have seen a large upward trend.
Fear of the unknown is understandable, but you should never be afraid to proceed to your personal injury trial. With the right trial attorneys in your corner doing everything they can to guide you, you will make it through to the other side. And waiting for you there could be both the justice and peace of mind that you and your family deserve after all you have been put through—not just the one inside a courtroom.