Dallas Truck Accident Cases Explained by an Attorney:
Part 3: Jury Trial
Trying to handle your litigation claim alone can be not only intimidating, it can be impossible; especially if attempts to settle the case fall through and you have no other choice but take the trucking company and its attorneys to trial. Bringing experienced lawyers, like ours here at Grossman Law Offices, into the case early will increase your chances for success against the trucking company. As well as, give you confidence that your rights as an injured person are being protected. If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve been injured in a Dallas-area 18-wheeler accident and you need help, please call our capable and experienced attorneys.
General Overview of Jury Trials
As we discussed in Part 2 of this series, after the claim is filed, the trucking company has the opportunity to file its answer to your claim with the court and can offer its responses and any denials at this point. The discovery period follows and can continue until either both sides have gathered all of the information they need, or until 30 days before trial, whichever comes first. After discovery has been completed, your written request for a jury trial with the required filing fee must be filed with the court, if this has not been done already. Once the request is filed, the notice of the trial setting is sent to the trucking company and its lawyers. This notice must be sent to the trucking company at least 45 days before trial. Before trial actually starts, your lawyers may need to file motions or other requests with the court. The types of motions or requests are discussed with greater detail below.
Once the pre-trial motions are completed, trial can begin. Your skilled truck accident attorney will go through the process of jury selection, the jury will be empaneled, and opening statements will be made by your attorney and the trucking company’s attorney. Next, each side will call any witnesses and present evidence. After each side has presented their case, your lawyer and the trucking company’s lawyer will complete closing arguments. When closing arguments have been made, the judge will give the jury any instructions regarding the case, and they will be released to the jury room to deliberate. After the jury has deliberated on your case, they will return with the verdict that the judge will read before the court.
Put simply, it can seem like a lengthy and overwhelming process, but with the right attorney who has won thousands of cases and who is willing to take the time and effort to make sure you understand the process too, your litigation journey will be hassle free.
Post-Discovery Discussions and Evidence
After discovery is completed in your case, evidence must be presented to the court prior to the commencement of trial, and it is typically submitted to the court during a pre-trial evidentiary hearing with your attorney, the trucking company’s attorney, and the judge. Here, your attorney and the trucking company’s attorney have the opportunity to review the evidence that the discovery period has produced. As a result, some decisions will be made before trial regarding this evidence.
- For example, information related to any expert witnesses must be presented at a pre-trial hearing. The expert witness’s name, credentials, and preliminary findings need to be presented at this point. However, their actual testimony is not required at this point. That will be saved for trial.
If there are issues surrounding the relevancy of any evidence and its admissibility at trial, it will be discussed at this point as well. All relevant evidence has the potential to be admissible unless it is excluded. Evidence can be anything that is relevant, meaning it makes someone’s claim more or less likely. Evidence, in legalese, is “considered relevant if it has the tendency to make the existence of any material fact to the outcome of the issue more or less probable than it would be without the evidence.” Relevant evidence may be excluded by the judge if its value is substantially outweighed because there is a danger of unfair prejudice, it could confuse the issues, there is a chance of misleading the jury, the evidence could waste the court’s time, or it would be cumulative of other evidence presented.
- For example, the truck driver’s arrest for domestic abuse would not be admissible in a truck accident case because it is not relevant to the issue at hand and discussion of it in front of the jury would be unfair prejudice. Essentially, what must be remembered is that the judge makes the determination of the admissibility of the evidence and decides what evidence gets presented to the jury. Then, the jury decides what weight to give that evidence when deciding the case.
Another factor in determining whether a jury will hear evidence is more a matter of protocol and court procedure. Put simply, all evidence must be “proved up”. Proving up evidence is the process by which you illustrate to the court that the evidence is legitimate, and there is rigid procedure that must be followed in order to accomplish this. As such, many people who self-represent will lose their case in trial because they do not know how to properly prove up the evidence they wish to use.
- For example, if you have medical bills that illustrate the full extent of your injuries, and a police report that shows the truck driver caused your injuries, certainly a judge would rule that evidence is admissible based on relevance… but if you fail to prove the evidence up, it doesn’t matter how good the evidence is, a jury will never know about it.
Sometimes, proving up physical evidence is as simple as having a signed affidavit from the source of the evidence. For instance, if you wish to use eye-witness testimony to corroborate your version of events, you must have a signed affidavit from that witness whereby they assert under penalty of perjury that the information contained in their written account is indeed accurate.
Understanding what evidence is needed and what evidence can be presented to the jury is tricky. You have to know and understand the Texas Rules of Evidence and their applicability to make the most effective use of the evidence you have. You can rest assured that the trucking company’s lawyers know these rules well and know how to apply them to their advantage. You need someone on your side that knows how to do this as well. The Dallas lawyers at Grossman Law Offices know how to present the right evidence that will be the most useful in your case, helping the jury understand why the trucking company must compensate you for your injuries.
Before trial commences and before a jury is selected, your attorney may have to file different motions or requests before the court. Sometimes, changes may need to be made to the answers filed on your behalf, or your attorney may want the court to order the trucking company’s attorney to refrain from discussing a certain issue in trial. Some common motions or requests that are filed during the pre-trial stage are Motions for Continuance, Motions in Limine, and Motions to Amend Pleading. Each one of these common motions is discussed below.
- Motion for Continuance – This kind of motion can be filed by either side. A motion for continuance asks the judge to postpone the start of trial or issue a delay during the trial, if needed. A motion for continuance must be written, notarized, show sufficient cause, and be supported by an affidavit. A motion for continuance can be filed when more time is needed to locate a material witness or the witness is unavailable, if additional discovery needs to be conducted, or if new information/evidence comes to light that needs to be investigated.
- Motion in Limine (“Lemenee”) – This is a pre-trial motion, that when filed, asks the court to order the trucking company’s lawyer and any witnesses not to mention or ask questions about a matter without approaching the judge for a final ruling. For example, the trucking company’s attorneys may want to introduce an issue about the plaintiff regarding an old DWI offense to discredit the plaintiff or sway the jury. The plaintiff’s lawyer will file a motion in limine to have the court order the trucking company’s attorney or witness to not ask or mention this DWI offense because it is not relevant to the plaintiff’s case against the trucking company and no evidence suggests that the plaintiff was driving under the influence when the accident with the tractor trailer occurred. Consequently, this information has no business being presented in front of the jury and the plaintiff’s lawyer will file the motion to prevent the trucking company’s attorney from discussing it. If the court grants the motion, the judge will instruct the trucking company’s lawyer to follow this procedure during trial.
Another example could be the discussion of unrelated cases or jury-awarded damage amounts that our attorneys have won for other clients. Sometimes, the trucking company attorneys will attempt to negatively characterize our Dallas attorneys as “slick big city lawyers” or other stereotypes by mentioning the level of success we have had in litigating cases; as well as, the fact that we successfully litigate cases all over the state of Texas. They do this to make your case seem less sympathetic to the jury and to give the jury the wrong impression of your case. To prevent this, our attorneys file a motion in limine to have the court order the trucking company’s lawyer to not mention any of this in front of the jury or in opening statements and closing arguments.
- Motions to Amend Pleading – Before trial starts, your attorney may file an amended pleading for your claims. This is done because your attorney may have discovered there are additional issues or damages you can claim against the trucking company that were not addressed in your original filing. However, if the attorney needs to make changes to your pleadings within 7 days before trial, a motion to amend pleading must accompany these changes. Permission will be needed from the court to make changes to the pleadings so close to trial.
You can almost guarantee that at this stage in your case, the trucking company’s attorney will be filing similar motions as well. The trucking company’s attorneys often file motion upon motion in attempt to “bury” the plaintiff in paper and delay the case. It can be difficult for you to follow up with all of the motions and requests filed by the trucking company’s attorneys and being unfamiliar with the process, you could miss a crucial response deadline.
The lawyers at Grossman Law Offices have litigated hundreds of trucking accident cases, and we know the tactics the trucking company lawyers will try to delay the case and inconvenience the injured plaintiff. We will litigate the case for you in a professional manner and will fight every one of their attempts to delay the justice and compensation you deserve.
Voir Dire and Jury Selection
When a jury trial is requested, the attorneys go through the process of selecting a jury. The jury pool will be comprised of people randomly notified to report to jury duty. In a Dallas District Court, enough potential jurors to make up a jury of 12 will be called. The people called in for jury duty will be gathered into the courtroom and your attorney and the trucking company’s attorney will give an introduction of the parties in the case and a brief explanation. Once this introduction and explanation has been completed, the attorneys and in some cases the judge, will ask questions of the potential jury members. The questioning is to determine whether a person can be a fair and impartial juror and is called Voir Dire. Voir Dire is a French term and means “to speak the truth,” or “to look and to say.” During Voir Dire, the attorneys and the judge will see if the potentials jurors have any knowledge or biases about the kind of case that will be tried, if they have been a participant in a similar case, or if they feel if they are unable to be impartial and reserve judgment until all the evidence has been presented. Obviously both sides want jurors that they think will be more likely to rule in favor of their case, and to accomplish this task, the lawyers will attempt to remove potential jury members that may favor the other side. Based on the juror’s responses some are excluded or “struck” from the jury pool.
There are two general ways in which potential jurors are struck or removed from the panel. A juror can be removed through a “challenge for cause” or through a “peremptory challenge”. These challenges can be used by the attorney for either side.
- A challenge for cause is when an attorney for either side seeks to remove a potential juror because there is something that prohibits them from serving on the jury. The reason can be based on Texas law or the juror’s responses to the attorneys regarding the case. Based on Texas law, a potential juror can be struck for cause from the jury panel if the potential juror is related to one of the parties or lawyers in the case or if the potential juror has a felony indictment pending in criminal court. A potential juror can also be struck for cause based on their responses to the questioning of the attorneys or the judge: if a potential juror knows too much about the case or the parties involved or states that they have already formed an opinion on the case and feel they cannot be impartial, they can be struck for cause. Challenges for cause are unlimited and the judge approves the removal of the potential juror from the panel.
- Peremptory challenges are a way for the attorneys to remove a potential juror from the panel without having to offer any reason for removing them. However, peremptory challenges cannot be used in a discriminatory manner. Meaning, lawyers cannot exclude jurors based on race, gender, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation, apparel, religious affiliation, national origin, etc. In a civil trial, your attorney will have six peremptory challenges and the trucking company’s attorney will have six peremptory challenges.
Once the jury is empaneled the trial itself begins and opening statements are performed by your attorney and the trucking company’s attorney. The opening statement is the opportunity that your lawyer and the trucking company’s lawyer has to give the jurors a more in-depth outline of the case, what the jurors can expect during each side’s presentation of the case, and what each side intends to prove by the end of the trial. In a civil case, you as the plaintiff are allowed to give your opening statement first.
Testimony, Witnesses and Evidence
After the opening statements are completed by your attorney and the trucking company’s attorney, witness testimony and evidence presentation begins. During both your presentation of the case and the trucking company’s presentation of the case, either side can object to witness testimony and evidence that is presented. The judge will follow the Texas Rules of Evidence when determining the admissibility of the evidence and when making the rulings on the objections that each side raises. If an objection is sustained that means the judge has ruled in favor of the party making the objection and the evidence or testimony that is the subject of the objection is not allowed to be presented to the jury or must be restated differently. If an objection is overruled that means the judge has ruled in favor of the party presenting the evidence or testimony, and that evidence or testimony is allowed to be presented to the jury.
As the plaintiff, you will get to present your witnesses and evidence first. Your witnesses testimony may consist of eyewitnesses to the scene of your accident, your doctor, or any other relevant witnesses with firsthand knowledge who can testify to the relevant facts of your case. Additionally, any expert witnesses that you have retained for your case will be called during this period. Expert witnesses are those with specialized training and education in a certain field and will be called to explain any complex technical or medical aspects of your case to aid in the jury’s understanding.
Your attorney may also have an expert witness that specializes in damages testify during your trial. A damages expert explains to the jury how your injuries have impacted you financially since your accident, and how the injuries can impact your ability to earn a living in the future. The damages expert will discuss the cost of lost wages, pain and suffering, future earnings, and medical expenses. However, it is important to remember that when it comes to medical expenses, the Texas Supreme Court has stated that only evidence of actual paid or incurred medical expenses is admissible at trial. This is significant because you as the claimant cannot recover for damages that your health care provider has not billed or collected on.
As your witnesses are called to the stand to testify, your attorney will ask them questions to help explain and paint the picture of what happened in your case. This questioning by your attorney is called direct examination. The trucking company’s attorneys can and will question your witnesses as well. This line of questioning is called cross examination. During cross examination, the trucking company’s attorneys will ask questions in a manner that may reveal weaknesses in your case or will attempt to undermine your witness’s credibility/recollection of the events of the case. If your attorney needs to question any of your witnesses again after they have been cross examined by the trucking company’s attorney, this is called rebuttal. Your attorney uses rebuttal questioning to refute the insinuations or implications that the trucking company tried to make against your witness or their testimony during cross examination. After all of your witnesses have been called and all of your evidence has been presented, your attorney will rest your case. Resting a case signals to the court that you have presented your case in its entirety and the trucking company’s attorneys can begin to present their witnesses and evidence of their version of the events that occurred with your case.
While the trucking company presents its witnesses and evidence, your attorney will cross examine their witnesses just as the trucking company’s attorneys did when your attorney presented your case to the jury. The same process regarding direct examination, cross examination, and rebuttal apply, and when the trucking company’s attorneys have completed their presentation to the jury they will rest their case as well.
Closing Arguments and Jury Instructions
After your attorney has presented your case and the trucking company’s attorney has presented its case, the attorneys will begin their closing arguments. In closing arguments, your attorney will summarize your case, discuss the favorable evidence and testimony that was presented for your case, discuss the reasons why the trucking company did not prove their case, and why your case should prevail. The trucking company’s attorney will make similar points in their closing arguments, stating why they are not liable for your injuries and that they should not have to compensate you.
When the closing arguments are done, the judge gives the instructions to the jury relating to the case with his or her own decision on what laws to be applied. The instructions (the “jury charge”) will include things the jury needs to decide on such as the proportion of fault assigned to each party and the amount of damages awarded in the case. Once the jury has been given the instructions from the judge, they will retire to the jury room to deliberate the case. In a civil trial, the jury verdict does not need to be unanimous and can be decided with a majority vote.
Settlement Offers Before the Jury Verdict
Sometimes after both sides have rested their case, the trucking company may approach you with a last minute settlement offer. This happens because the trucking company’s lawyers think they will lose the case. They will offer a settlement at this time because they think the jury may award more than they would like to pay. When this happens, we as your attorneys will review and assess the offer and bring it to you for consideration. Your attorney is obligated to present to you any settlement offer the trucking company submits. You will have the opportunity to determine if the settlement is acceptable to you. If you would like to accept the offer, we will communicate this to the trucking company’s attorney and advise the judge of your decision. If you reject the offer, we will advise the trucking company’s attorney and the judge, and then wait on the jury’s decision.
The Verdict, Damages, and Appeals
After the jury has deliberated the case, they advise the judge they have reached a verdict. The judge will then inform your attorney and the trucking company’s attorney and all parties will assemble back in the courtroom. The judge calls the court to order, the jury will come back in, and the verdict will be read. The jury foreperson reads the verdict, and the jury is thanked by the judge for their service and is excused.
If the jury finds in your favor and awards damages, it is important to remember that the amount awarded may be reduced by the judge. As mentioned above, in Texas you as the claimant cannot collect on medical expenses you have not been billed for or your medical care provider is not collecting on. Therefore, the judge may reduce a jury award for medical damages to what was actually incurred by you or charged for your care. For example, say you are injured and have medical expenses totaling $60,000.00 for the care you have actually received and been billed for. After the trial the jury finds in your favor and awards medical damages in the amount of $90,000.00. The judge can reduce that $90,000.00 down to $60,000.00 based on what you have actually been charged or incurred in medical expenses.
Even if the judge does not reduce the amount you have been awarded, the trucking company still has the right to appeal the jury verdict. The trucking company’s lawyers can file a motion for a new trial if the jury verdict is seen as excessive, and if granted, the process starts all over again. Just know that the jury verdict and damages award is not always the “finish line” that we imagine. You have to be prepared for reductions in your award if the jury finds in your favor, if an appeal is made by the trucking company, or even if you lose the case outright.
Previously In The Series:
- Part 1: Filing Suit in a Dallas 18-Wheeler Accident Case
- Part 2: Litigating a Dallas Truck Accident Case (What happens after suit is filed but before trial)
With so many variables and so much at stake when it comes to your trial against the trucking company for your injuries, handling your case on your own may not be your best alternative. From beginning to end, there are so many moving parts and different aspects of Texas truck accident litigation that you would have to stay on top of in addition to dealing with your injuries. You are only one person, but the trucking company will have a team of attorneys and experts on their side. There is no reason you should go through this alone when Michael Grossman and the experienced and capable attorneys at Grossman Law Offices in Dallas, TX can help you. Call us at (972) 808-7629 now.