An Overview of Truck Accident Jury Trials - by Texas Truck Accident Attorney Michael Grossman
You've probably heard by now that most cases settle. The expense and time that trying a case before a jury require can lead even the most disagreeable parties to the negotiating table. Trials can be risky for both parties. No matter how much evidence you have, no matter how skilled and experienced your lawyer, you are asking 12 strangers (who most likely do not want to be there) to decide your case. A jury could decide they don't like either party and "split the baby" by giving the plaintiff half of his claims. It might decide it didn't like a party's lawyer and more or less ignore his evidence. Or, juries can sometimes award plaintiffs astronomical sums or nothing at all. This is true in a truck accident case as well.
Despite all of this, we believe strongly in the civil justice system of our country, and we believe that, despite the uncertainty, it's the best system in the world. Nevertheless, trials are risky, and the best way to mitigate that risk is to have an attorney who knows how to win in court. In this article, we're going to delve into the specifics of trying a truck accident case, and we'll discuss some of the techniques our attorneys use.
How Do Trials Work?
The broad outline of a trial is pretty simple:
- The jury is impaneled. Before they can become jurors, people must go through the process of "voir dire." Voir dire is when lawyers ask potential jurors about their backgrounds, biases, and if they can fairly serve on the jury. This also gives your attorney the chance to put a little of his evidence and case arguments to the jury. Potential jurors can be challenged "for cause," meaning the lawyers can request the judge excuse a juror from service if he or she is unable to serve on the jury for a handful of reasons (like bias for example). Once there are sufficient jurors, and they are sworn in, the trial can begin.
- Opening arguments: Each side gets to present an opening argument to the jury. This is not "evidence," but is the lawyers' opportunity to explain to the jury what their theory of the case is, what evidence they will likely see, and why the jury should side with them. Opening arguments work a lot like movie previews. Nobody would confuse a preview with an actual movie, but the preview gives you an idea about what the movie is about, who the actors are, and a taste of some of the better parts to look forward to. A great courtroom lawyer constructs an opening argument in the same way.
- The plaintiff's case: As the party that filed the lawsuit, the plaintiff has the burden to prove its case. They then put on witnesses and evidence to the jury. When witnesses are called, the plaintiff's attorney asks the witnesses questions. Once the plaintiff has finished, the defendant then gets to cross-examine the witness to test certain things, such as: his or her credibility, recollection, and for potential bias. When the plaintiff has presented all of his evidence, and called all of his witnesses, the plaintiff's side will rest, or conclude their case. It is not uncommon at this point for the defendant to make a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff has not met the burdens of proof for their allegations. If this happens in your case, don't be alarmed, the likelihood of your case ending here is remote. It's the defendant's throwing the legal equivalent of a Hail Mary. It is no risk and all reward from their perspective.
- The defendant's case: The defense then gets to put its own evidence on, just like the plaintiffs. They can try to rebut your witnesses with people of their own, as well as introduce items and documents that buttress their side. The plaintiff can cross-examine their witnesses. Once the defense has presented all the evidence and witnesses it likes, the defense rests.
- Closing: Both sides then get to make their final summation of the evidence to the jury and plead for ta favorable verdict. If the opening arguments were the previews, then closing arguments are like a movie review. Each side will highlight the strongest points of their own cases, while attacking the weak points in the other sides argument. Just like movie reviews are not part of a movie, but can help to frame how we think about a movie, closing arguments are not actual evidence, just how the lawyers would like the jury to look at their case.
Before the jury heads off to deliberate, the judge will issue instructions to the jury, which lay out how the jury is to reach a verdict, which laws are applicable to the case, and perhaps even an explanation of the law if the jury is unclear about what it means. The jury is then retires to another room to deliberate.
Attorneys in the case prepare a document called a Jury Charge which is provided to the jury. The document is essentially a fill-in-the-blank questionnaire that asks the jury a serious of legal questions, such as whether or not the evidence shows that the defendant was negligent, how they wish to divide fault among the parties to the lawsuit, and what type of compensation they think is reasonable for each of the different categories of losses allegedly sustained by the plaintiff. Here is an excerpt from a jury charge:
During deliberations they have no outside contact concerning the case. They are free to review any of the evidence or testimony they choose. If they have a question about the law, they can send it in writing to the judge, who can then reply. When the jury reaches a verdict, just like you have probably seen on TV, everyone reconvenes in the courtroom and the jury reads the verdict out loud. That's it. The trial is over.
Will I Need to testify?
The best answer we can give you is maybe. People have different feelings about testifying in court. The prospect makes some truck accident victims quite nervous, whereas others cannot wait to tell their story to the jury. It might be extremely necessary for the truck accident victim to testify about his or her injuries, how the wreck happened, and how he or she is today.
Very few people look forward to having everything they are saying questioned and undermined. That is an unpleasant necessity of any court case. If a trucking company witness was blatantly lying on the stand, you wouldn't expect your attorney to politely let it slide. The same rules apply when you take the stand. If you need to testify, you will have the best preparation possible. Our attorneys will bring you into our office and simulate the experience of testifying, in order to make you comfortable. Many of our clients come into preparation feeling timid and nervous, but leave the office feeling like testifying lions.
Of course, testifying is another reason that you need an experienced truck accident attorney. When you are up on the witness stand, your attorney is all that stands between you and potentially being mistreated and abused during your testimony. Defense lawyers will do their best to get under your skin and make you angry. There are ways to do that within the rules. However, when things are going badly for the defense, and they're feeling the heat from their own clients, sometimes they'll try to cross lines. In 25 years of fighting for people just like you, we know where those lines are and we stand up for our clients, when they're taking the stand.
Put our truck accident attorneys' courtroom experience to work for you.
Should your case make it to trial, you will have the peace of mind knowing that your lawyers have conducted and won countless jury trials all through Texas. We know the rules and procedures cold--after 25 years of trying cases, it's second nature to us. Also, you will know that, having won multi-million dollar verdicts in the past, your attorneys have the advocacy skills and persuasiveness to get you the justice you deserve.
Don't risk your trial on attorneys who don't know the courtroom. Trust your case to lawyers with years of trying cases before juries and winning. (855) 326-0000
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