Your Car Accident Lawsuit is Going to Trial: What to Expect
Insurers are often willing to settle a claim without going to court, but sometimes a case ends up going to trial. If you are a party in a car accident lawsuit that is going to trial you are probably wondering what to expect. Who will be there? What sort of evidence might be presented? Who decides the winner? The following article provides a general overview of the trial process and attempts to answer these questions.
A car accident lawsuit involves many of the parties that might appear in other kinds of legal actions. There is a plaintiff who has filed a complaint and is seeking to prove their allegations and a defendant opposing their claim. Defendants may have their own cross and counterclaims against the plaintiff as well. In addition to these parties and their witnesses there is also a judge and, in many cases, a jury.
Juries are selected through a random process and both attorneys have an opportunity to ask questions and exclude jurors that might have a bias that would prevent them from reaching an impartial decision. Juries are generally responsible for making findings of fact, while judges make decisions relating to the law.
When jury selection is completed the trial commences.
The plaintiff and defendant have an opportunity at the beginning of the trial to make an opening statement. At this, and other points in the trial either side can request that the judge render a summary judgment or dismiss the case. Motions of this kind can only be granted if one party cannot, as a matter of law, prevail over the other, or where there are no contested facts for a jury to decide.
The plaintiff presents their opening statement first, laying out their accusations against the defendant. Since the burden of proof is on the alleging party, the plaintiff, the defendant may choose not to make an opening statement since they may choose to simply disprove the plaintiff's story rather than attempt to tell a more convincing story themselves, though defendants more commonly do take the opportunity to dispute the plaintiff's narrative or present their version of events.
After opening arguments the plaintiff presents their evidence. Evidence may include:
- police reports;
- medical records;
- medical experts;
- photographs or diagrams; or
- other evidence supporting their claims.
The defense has the opportunity to contest the admission of evidence and, after the plaintiff has finished questioning a witness, can cross-examine them in order to undermine their testimony. When all of the plaintiff's evidence has been presented the defense has an opportunity to present their own witnesses and evidence. The plaintiff has the same opportunities to object to evidence and cross-examine witnesses during this phase of the trial that the defense had while the plaintiff was making their case.
As with opening statements, the defense does not have an obligation to call witnesses or present evidence since the plaintiff has the burden of proving their case.
When the defense has finished presenting their evidence the judge the parties present their closing arguments to the jury. The plaintiff typically gives the first closing argument. The judge provides instructions to the jury regarding the questions at issue and the jury leaves the courtroom to deliberate.
When the jury has reached a verdict it delivers it to the judge. The judge rules on any remaining legal questions and renders a decision, which includes the factual and legal findings determined at trial, names the prevailing party, and describes the terms and amounts to be paid by the loser.
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Although the basic elements of a trial are nearly universal the details of an incident are infinitely varied. A legal professional can examine your case to help you better understand your situation and all of its pitfalls and possibilities. Contact a local attorney to schedule a free case evaluation to discuss your car accident lawsuit and learn more.
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