What you Need to Know about Personal Injury Trials


It is important to know that personal injury trials are a big process. Personal injury lawyers are indispensable allies for injury victims; they build a case and handle each phase of a personal injury claim from filing initial court papers to mediation and trial if necessary.

What is the purpose of a personal injury trial?

The purpose of a personal injury trial is to reach a verdict in favor of the plaintiff or defendant. Trials result in verdicts and jury damage awards which are turned into "judgements" that the wrongdoer or their insurance company must pay the plaintiff. To reach a verdict, the plaintiff presents evidence and the defendant presents their rebuttal, usually through their attorneys. After examination of the evidence, the judge or jury considers whether to find the defendant liable for the plaintiff’s claims; and if so, the amount of damages that the defendant or their insurance company must pay.

What are the six phases of a complete personal injury trial?

Personal injury attorneys typically try to settle personal injury claims without going to trial; in fact, 95 percent of personal injury cases are settled without a trial. After an investigation of the facts, the plaintiff presents a settlement demand to the defendant which gives the accused a chance to settle the case by fair payment. If this process doesn’t settle a case, the parties can try to settle through mediation. If mediation fails, the plaintiff may file a lawsuit with the court; asking the court to set a trial date. If the case goes to trial these six phases take place:

#1: Choose a jury

Most personal injury trials are tried before a jury. The jury is selected by the judge after a round of questions is posed to potential jurors by the judge, the plaintiff and defendant through their attorneys. The judge will excuse any potential jurors whose personal ideological predispositions or life experiences may preclude them from being fair jurors for that case. Both the plaintiff and defendant may also exclude a certain number of jurors through use of "peremptory challenges" and challenges "for cause."

#2: Opening statements

Opening statements are made by the attorneys representing the plaintiff and the defendant. The plaintiff’s attorney typically goes first because they must show the defendant's legal liability for the plaintiff's injuries. As a result, the plaintiff’s opening statement is typically longer and more detailed than the one given by the defendant’s attorney. The defendant’s attorney then presents its own interpretation of the facts and sets up the rebuttal for the plaintiff’s key evidence.

#3: Witness testimony and cross-examination

In a personal injury trial, key evidence and arguments presented to the jury are often called the "case-in-chief."

  • The plaintiff presents their evidence including witnesses and experts who are called to testify; physical evidence is introduced. The goal is to convince the jury that the defendant should be held legally liable for the plaintiff's injuries and damages.
  • The plaintiff - the party who called the witness to the stand - questions the witness through a method called “direct” examination. When this is complete, the defendant – the opposing party - tries to discredit the witness or expose weaknesses in their argument through “cross-examination” questions. After cross-examination the plaintiff has a second opportunity to question the witness through "re-direct examination" in order to fix any of the holes poked in the case through cross-examination. The plaintiff “rests” their case.
  • The defense attorney now presents their own evidence for their “case in chief.” The goal of this evidence is to prove that the defendant is not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. Witnesses may be called and questioned in the same way as those called by the plaintiff. Once the defense has “rested” then the plaintiff has a chance to respond through a “rebuttal.”

#4: Closing arguments

Closing arguments are the final chance for each attorney to speak to the jury. They typically use the opportunity to sum up the case and recap the evidence they presented during witness testimony in an effort to convince the jury to decide in their client’s favor. The plaintiff tries to show why the evidence obligates the jury to find the defendant liable for the plaintiff’s damages while the defendant tries to show that the plaintiff has not established the defendant’s liability in the case.

#5: Jury instruction provided by judge

During jury instruction the judge discusses and hands the jury the set of legal standards – previously agreed to by the judge, plaintiff and defendant – that it will need to decide whether the defendant should be held accountable for the plaintiff's alleged damages.

#6: Jury deliberation and verdict

The jurors consider the case through a methodical process called "deliberation”, attempting to agree on whether the defendant should be held liable for the plaintiff's claimed injuries, and if so, the appropriate reparation for those injuries. Once the jury reaches a decision, the jury foreperson tells the judge and the judge typically announces the verdict in open court. Most states require 10 out of 12 jurors to agree on a verdict in personal injury cases. A mistrial may be called if the jury is unable to reach a sufficient majority verdict. When a mistrial is called then the case may be dismissed or begin again at the jury selection stage.

Do I need a personal injury lawyer to represent me in my personal injury trial?

While it is possible to settle a personal injury claim without an attorney, know that you will likely get a much smaller settlement and be left with a complex process. Any person dealing with a serious personal injury because of another’s negligence should seriously consider hiring a personal injury lawyer. Most personal injury attorneys provide free case evaluations and require no payment up front so plaintiffs have nothing to lose.

This information is not intended to be legal advice. Call a local accident attorney to receive specific legal advise.