People who are injured in car accidents have the legal right to request compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and much more. This compensation usually comes after a settlement or a car accidents trials.
Over 90% of car accident cases are settled before going to court. But what about that other 10 percent that do go to trial? This article will explain what you can expect before, during, and after a trial on your car accidents claim.
What’s the Purpose of a Personal Injury Trial?
Personal injury claims involving car accidents typically focus on one concept – negligence. Negligence is a word lawyers use to describe someone’s careless behavior. To win your car accident claim, you’ll have to prove that the other driver was negligent.
To prove that the other driver was negligent, you’ll have to prove that
- The other driver owed you a duty to drive carefully,
- Despite this duty, the other driver did not drive carefully,
- You were injured, and
- The other driver’s actions caused your injuries.
In most car accident claims, people agree on the basic facts. But sometimes, issues arise that the parties cannot resolve. For example: Was the light yellow or red? How severe were the injuries? If it’s a trucking accident, does the fault lie with the driver, the owner, the loaders, or some other party? Did you contribute to causing the accident in some way? When the parties can’t agree on the answers to questions like these, the case will likely go to trial.
Can a Car Accident Case Settle Before Trial?
Yes. Experienced Alabama accident lawyers continue settlement negotiations up until the day of trial. Some cases even settle after the trial has started.
However, if your case is scheduled for trial, prepare to go to trial. Don’t assume that it will settle, even though it’s possible.
What Happens Before a Car Accidents Trials?
The good news is that your accident attorney will do most of the heavy lifting before trial. Your lawyer will
- Investigate your case,
- Sort through discovery materials to find helpful evidence,
- Find experts to support your case,
- Collect evidence from you (e.g., your medical bills, etc.),
- Choose which witnesses and documents to use at trial,
- Prepare questions for witnesses, and
- Create demonstrative exhibits (e.g., blown-up photographs, scale models, etc.).
Your injury lawyer will also talk to you about what to expect at trial. Contrary to what you may have seen in TV shows or movies, your lawyer will not tell you what to say. However, they will tell you about the types of questions you might be asked so you won’t be caught off guard during car accidents trials. Your accident attorney will also explain courtroom procedures and answer any questions you might have.
How Long Will My Car Accident Trial Take?
It depends. Cases involving two-car accidents might take just a day or two. More complex cases, especially those involving severe injuries, multiple cars, or trucking accidents, may take much longer. Your Birmingham accident lawyer can help you understand how long your trial should last.
Who Are the Key People in a Car Accidents Trials?
Here are the people you can expect to see during a car accident trial:
- The plaintiff (you). Lawyers and judges refer to the injured person as the “plaintiff.” In your car accidents trials, you will be the plaintiff.
- The defendant. The defendant (or defendants, if there’s more than one) is the person that you believe is responsible for causing your injuries.
- The attorneys. The plaintiff and defendant will each have their own attorneys.
- The jury. Two types of questions come up in trials – questions of law and questions of fact. A question of fact in a car accident case would be whether a traffic light was red or green. In the American legal system, juries decide questions of fact. If there are multiple versions of a story, the jury gets to decide which version to believe.
- The judge. Juries answer questions of fact, but judges decide questions of law. Legal questions that come up at trial include whether a witness should be considered an expert, whether evidence should be admitted, and which questions the lawyers can ask.
- The witnesses. Each side can call witnesses to help their case. There are two types of witnesses. Lay witnesses are regular people who can testify about what they saw before, during, or after the accident. Expert witnesses are people who have a high level of expertise in a particular field. In car accident trials, a doctor might be called as an expert to explain your injuries.
What Happens During a Car Accidents Trials?
Here are some things you can expect to see during a car accidents trials:
- Jury Selection. Weeks before trial, the court clerk will send jury duty notices to a random group of people. The lawyers ask questions and strike potential jurors until 12 people remain. Those 12 will be sworn in as jurors.
- Opening statements. Each side will give a short statement to the jury about their theory of the case and what they hope to prove.
- Presentation of the cases. Each side will have the chance to present evidence and witnesses to support their case.
- Closing arguments. Similar to opening statements, the closing argument will go through the evidence and attempt to convince the jury that their version of the story is the right one.
- Jury instructions. After each side gives their closing argument, the judge will give the jury instructions about the law they must use to reach their verdict.
- Verdict. After instructing them, the judge will release the jury and send them into a special room to deliberate. The jury will weigh the evidence and make their decision.
Note that some trials are bifurcated. In these trials, the jury first hears evidence on fault. The verdict decides whether the defendant is responsible for the injuries. If the defendant is responsible, the jury then hears evidence on damages. The second verdict decides how much the plaintiff should receive in damages.
What Happens After the Verdict in a Car Accident Trial?
If you lose at trial, your lawyer can appeal. When you appeal, you take your case to a higher court to ask them to review the evidence and change the decision. But remember, juries are asked to decide which evidence to believe. Juries get to see the witnesses live and in person; appellate judges do not. For this reason, appellate courts very rarely overturn jury verdicts. At times, they reduce jury awards, though this is also fairly rare.
If you win, the other side can appeal, but they know that getting an appellate court to overturn a jury verdict will not be easy. Since appeals can take years, they also know that it will be time-consuming and expensive. But because a defendant doesn’t have to pay anything until the appeal is decided, some use appeals as a delay tactic.
Defendants have been known to use the threat of an appeal to reopen negotiations post-verdict. Even though this will cause a delay, the good news is that you’ll have the upper hand because it will be very difficult for them to argue that the amount awarded by the jury isn’t a fair baseline.
Bottom line: winning at trial doesn’t mean you’ll get paid immediately. Your Birmingham accident lawyer can guide you through the process.
Do You Have More Questions About What to Expect at a Car Accident Trial?
Going to trial after a car accident is a serious matter. While this article answered many questions about what to expect at a car accident trial, please contact Collins Law, LLC if you have more questions. Our team would be thrilled to answer your questions about car accident cases, trucking cases, or any other personal injury matters. If you’ve been injured and you have questions or need legal help, call us at 205-588-1411 or use our website’s online scheduling tool to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.