How Personal Injury Trials Work In Texas
After the long road of filing a lawsuit, discovery, depositions, and mediation, it comes down to this: the parties must submit their cases to the jury. The right to a jury trial is recognized in the US Constitution, and it is the last great hope for getting justice for personal injury victims. If the defendants won't settle for a reasonable sum of money, your case must go to a jury of your peers. In this article, we'll talk about selecting a jury, how lawyers present their cases and when, and how the jury must decide your case.
Questions answered on this page:
- What role does the jury play in determining the outcome of your Texas personal injury case?
- How does the jury selection process work in Texas?
- What are the steps in the trial process in Texas?
- How does an experienced Dallas-based attorney help me win?
Picking the right jury is vital to your case.
In most of the courtroom movies and TV shows you've seen, picking the jury rarely, if ever, likely came up. In fact, TV shows fail to mentain the legal term for the jury selection process called voir dire.
Jurors are not simply assigned to a case. Instead, a large pool of potential jurors is assembled and the lawyers get to examine them. The lawyers then get to ask questions and interact with the potential jurors to determine who would be suitable. The interaction the lawyers have is never supposed to influence the jurors or ask them anything that might bias them toward or against a party. Instead, the point is to allow the lawyers to do two things:
- Discover bias: Jurors are supposed to be willing to listen to the evidence and decide who's right. If a juror has a preconceived idea that people who file lawsuits are all just greedy, then clearly that person should not be on the jury. Further, if a juror is good friends with or is related to one of the litigants or attorneys, then they shouldn't be allowed to serve, either. People who admit to some sort of bias are generally dismissed, called being "struck for cause." There is no limit to the number of people being struck.
- Strike the most unwanted jurors: Attorneys are allowed a small number of "strikes," or, amount of people the lawyer may not be able to prove is biased, but doesn't want on the jury for whatever reason. Additionally, there are two ways to strike a juror. You can submit a "Peremptory challenge" which does not require reason, and the judge removes the juror from the jury pool. The other way is to "challenge based upon perceived bias" and the judge then determines whether or not that juror is fit to stay in the jury pool. Jurors cannot be challenged on the basis of race, gender, religion, or other discriminatory factors. Either side can suggest that a challenge is rooted in discrimination and the judge will rule on that challenge on whether or not that challenge has merit.
Your attorney's litigation skills are crucial to getting the jury on your side.
Once the jury is seated, arguments begin. The burden in any personal injury case lies on the plaintiff to prove their case. The plaintiff's lawyer makes an opening argument in which he explains in broad strokes what happened at the accident, your injuries, and what he'll want them to pay attention to in the trial. It is much like a movie preview, its purpose is to frame the case and get the jury to want to know more. The defense lawyer then gets his chance to do the same thing, and then the case shifts back to the plaintiff.
It is important to remember that the plaintiff has an obligation to prove four elements in almost every Texas personal injury case. Those elements are:
- The plaintiff has to show that the defendant owed a duty to the victim.
- The plaintiff has to show that the defendant failed in that duty or breached that duty.
- The failure to fulfill a duty has to cause injury to the victim.
- That injury must result in damages.
Generally speaking, there is no set of rules about exactly how the plaintiff proves the four elements. Instead, the attorney gets to craft the case how he sees fit. In personal injury cases, it might be a witness to the accident who gets called first, a doctor to explain the medical situation, or really anything. The defendant's lawyer will have the opportunity to cross-examine each witness the plaintiff calls to testify. But at some point, the plaintiff will be called to the stand to give his side of the story.
After the plaintiff's lawyer presents the entirety of the case, the defendant now has to put on his evidence.
The defendant gets a chance to tell his side of the story.
The defendant's lawyer now has the job of tearing down any goodwill the jury has for the plaintiff. He will put on witnesses, pictures, and demonstrations which purport to claim that the accident was the plaintiff's fault, that the plaintiff isn't actually hurt, or evidence that shows you did not prove one of your elements for a personal injury claim. Just as the defendant's lawyer had been, the plaintiff's lawyer is allowed to cross-examine each of the defendant's witnesses.
After both sides have finished presenting evidence the case proceeds to closing arguments. This stage is where both sides summarize their evidence to sway to the jury. This is each side's last chance to demonstrate to the jury that they should view the case from their client's point-of-view. The plaintiff will review how they have satisfied the four elements, and justify the damages sought. The defense is going to point out where they think the plaintiff's case comes up short, while at the same time disputing the plaintiff's calculation for damages.
The judge and jury control how much compensation is awarded.
After both sides have presented their cases, the judge then gives the jury the charge. The jury charge is the official questionnaire that asks the jury what they have decided. They'll be asked whether or not the plaintiff proved his case---this is called the "determination of liability". The judge will walk them through the elements of what the components of negligence are. Then, the judge will say that if they believe that the defendant is liable, they must make determinations about how much compensation the plaintiff is entitled to.
The jury typically takes a number of hours back in the jury room to decide. After that, the big moment comes when they read their decision in court.
Our attorneys aren't afraid of trials.
Many attorneys are praying for a settlement, and will even settle your case for lower than you deserve. If the defense suspects this, they may intentionally low-ball you in the settlement process and you'll receive much less compensation consequently. It is the defendant's fear of going before a jury and having to an attorney who knows how to win at trial that forces the defendant to offer a settlement that is favorable to injury victim.
The attorneys at Grossman Law Offices have been winning in and outside of the courtroom for 25 years. Defense attorneys know who we are and our commitment to obtaining fair compensation for our clients. Call us today at (855) 326-0000 to learn what your case could be worth.
Related Articles for Further Reading: