What happens in a personal injury trial?
You made a claim against the insurance company. You filed a lawsuit because the case could not be settled or the statute of limitations was approaching. What happens if your case doesn’t settle after depositions and pre-trial conferences? Usually that means you are headed for trial. Most personal injury trials take place in common pleas court with a jury deciding the outcome. Each judge and court can have its own rules but there is a common basic procedure for a civil trial in Ohio.
The first step is jury selection. Jury selection can vary by judge and by county, but usually a group of 20-50 citizens from the county is brought into the court room and each juror is assigned a number. Often the judge asks the group some general questions and then each attorney gets a chance to ask the jurors some questions. If any juror has some kind of potential or obvious conflict with the case, like they know the parties or the lawyers, that juror can be excused by the judge on her own or by granting the request of one of the parties to excuse the juror “for cause”. Each party to a lawsuit also gets 3 preemptory challenges, which basically means that each side can excuse 3 jurors because the lawyer feels the juror is not suited for the case, and no reason need by given. Once the parties have exhausted their preemptory challenges, or passed on the chance to use their challenges, the first 8 jurors left make up the jury, with the next 1 or 2 selected as alternates.
The next step is opening statement. The opening statement is a short statement made by the lawyer for each party and is a summary of what they believe the evidence will show. After opening statements, the plaintiff calls her witnesses. One at a time each witness takes the stand, is sworn in and the lawyer for the plaintiff gets to ask questions. After the plaintiff lawyer finishes then the defense lawyer can cross-examine the witness. Usually each side gets 2 chances to question the witness, although that is up to the judge as to how many times each side can question a witness. Once the plaintiff lawyer finishes calling her witnesses then the defendant can call his witnesses and same process takes place with the questioning, with the defense lawyer going first and the plaintiff cross-examining the witness. It is usually through witness testimony that physical evidence gets presented to the jury, like medical records, photographs and other physical things.
After all the witnesses have testified and all the evidence is admitted, closing arguments take place. The plaintiff lawyer goes first, gives the jury her argument as to why they should win and what winning means, then the defense lawyer gives his argument as to why the outcome should be in his favor. The plaintiff lawyer then gets one more chance to argue to the jury.
The last part of the trial is the jury instructions given by the judge. This is the law that the jury is supposed to follow in reaching its decision. The jury’s job is to apply the facts in the form the evidence and testimony to the law given by the judge. When the jury has received the jury instructions it then meets privately to deliberate or discuss the case. To reach a final decision, 6 of the 8 jurors must agree. When the jury reaches its decision, it advises the judge and their decision, called a verdict, is read in open court and the trial is concluded. There can be post-trial motions and appeals filed in the case after the verdict.