The final phase after filing a personal injury or car accident case is the trial. While there are many details and variances making each trial a little different than the next, there are four main areas of the trial phase;
- Jury Selection
- Opening Statement
- Presentation of the Evidence
- Closing Argument
Jury Selection, also known as Voir Dire, is the opportunity for attorneys for both parties to interview members of a preselected group of people comprising the jury pool. The manner in which jury selection is conducted varies greatly from county to county and State to Federal courts. Some judges will give the lawyers generous leeway in questioning perspective jurors about their potential experiences and biases concerning matters relevant to your personal injury case. Other judges may assert more control over the jury selection process and severely limit the time and scope of the attorney’s involvement. In an Oregon State civil trial, an attorney may remove a perspective juror from the jury pool in one of two ways; for cause or through a peremptory challenge.
Challenging a juror for cause means that the lawyer is asking the Court to remove a juror from consideration in your personal injury case because the juror may be so biased against an important issue or claim in the case that s/he will not be able to follow the law in deciding the case and would instead allow their own bias to dictate the outcome. If the judge determines that is in fact the case, s/he will likely agree the juror is not fit to sit on this case.
Unlike cause, a peremptory challenge is one that the attorney can use without revealing the reasons for the challenge and without needing the Court’s approval. Generally, each lawyer in a car accident case (or most civil cases) is entitled to exercise up to three peremptory challenges. This means the attorney can ask that up to three potential jurors from the pool be removed for any reason. While there are some rules and guidelines controlling these types of challenges, they are generally granted as a matter of practice.
As you probably have guessed, the opening statement is the summary of the case delivered by the attorneys to the jury once it has been selected and sworn in. In a civil case, the plaintiff’s will go first in giving their opening statement followed by the defendant’s attorney. There are countless approaches to composing an opening statement. And each one of those approaches has limitless variations and alternates. Generally, the objective of the opening statement is to provide the jury with a preview and roadmap of what the case is about, the evidence the attorney expects to produce during the trial and the basis for the claim. Many attorneys will use exhibits, models, and other visual aids to promote their version of the case.
PRESENTATION OF EVIDENCE
After the opening statements are completed, the plaintiff’s attorney will commence their case by presenting their evidence. Usually, they will do this by calling witnesses to testify. For example, if the plaintiff claims they were hurt in a car accident and required medical treatment for injuries sustained, they will need to call witnesses who can support that claim. Similarly, if the defendant claims the plaintiff was at fault for the accident, they will call witnesses to corroborate that position.
The other most common presentation of evidence is through documents. The attorneys will offer evidence to the jury for their consideration by presenting them with documents or photographs. For example, as part of the plaintiff’s case, the attorney might offer pictures illustrating the damage to the car in the crash or the bruising/lacerations to the plaintiff following the accident or records, summaries, charts, graphs, and wage records.
After all the witnesses have testified and the evidence has been offered, the time has come for the attorneys to give their closing argument. The closing argument is an opportunity for the attorney to remind the jury of the evidence that was presented during the trial and fashion a summary that supports the basis of their claim or position. In a particularly lengthy trial, it will be helpful for the jury to be reminded in a succinct manner of all the information that was generated during the course of the trial. For obvious reasons each attorney will focus on those facts, evidence and testimony which highlight their side’s position. Also, the attorney may provide the jury with a preview of what the judge will instruct with regard to specific laws applicable to case at hand (e.g. rules of the road in a car accident case).
If you have been in a car accident or other injury-causing episode, don’t hesitate to contact our office. A knowledgeable member of our team will be more than happy to answer any questions you might have.