You have probably heard that most car accident lawsuits never end up in court. The Bolch Judicial Institute at Duke Law School noted that around 1 percent of civil lawsuits – which include car accident cases – filed in federal courts result in a trial. However, civil trials can and do happen, so it pays to get familiar with the process in case your case comes before a judge and jury.
Whether your car accident case goes to court or not, it pays to work with an experienced attorney who has successful trial experience. You need someone who will play hardball and fight with everything he or she has to give you the best chance of a favorable outcome.
Let’s explore what the auto accident trial process entails, why trials happen, and how the right car accident lawyer can make a difference with your personal injury claim.
Car Accident Trial – Step-by-Step Guide
According to the Arkansas State Constitution, Art. II, § 7, the right to a jury trial is inviolate. This means that all cases, whether criminal or civil, have the right to a jury trial. However, you also have the right to waive this right and request a bench trial, which has a judge and no jury.
The following steps outline what happens in a civil jury trial in Arkansas.
Step 1: Jury selection
Jury selection begins with a group of potential jurors being asked questions by the trial judge. He or she may ask the jurors whether:
- They are acquainted with any of the parties involved in the case
- They have any knowledge of the car accident case
- They have any other concerns related to their suitability to act as jurors in the case
Next begins a process called voir dire, literally meaning “speak truth” in French. The attorneys representing both parties have a chance to explain the background of the case and ask questions. Each prospective juror must answer questions about his or her background, opinions, and feelings. The lawyers will be assessing whether they feel the jurors can act impartially.
If either attorney is unhappy with the selection of a juror for a specific reason, he or she can ask for that individual to be excused. This is called “challenge for cause.” Additionally, each lawyer will have 3 “peremptory challenges,” asking for a juror to be excused without giving a reason.
Finally, once the attorneys have selected 12 jurors, they will be sworn in. Then the trial can get underway.
Step 2: Opening statements
The opening statements give both sides a chance to outline their cases and brief the jury on the evidence they will present. It is important for jurors to note that the opening statements are not evidence; that will come later and they will have to base their judgments on the evidence.
The plaintiff’s attorney will go first. The plaintiff has the burden of proving their allegations. In a car accident trial, this involves demonstrating how the evidence he or she will present proves the defendant is liable for the collision and that the plaintiff is entitled to damages.
Then the defendant’s attorney will make a statement and the trial can move to the next phase.
Step 3: Plaintiff’s evidence
The plaintiff presents his or her case first. Car accident lawyers spend a lot of time building a strong case so they are ready for this moment. They will present a range of evidence and walk the jury through how it proves the other driver or drivers were at fault.
Car accident lawyers may seek the following testimonies:
- Eyewitness testimony: People who were at the scene may be called upon to give witness statements as to how the accident occurred and what they saw. They will have to take an oath to give an accurate account of what happened on the day.
- Plaintiff testimony: It is natural to feel daunted by the prospect of testifying in court, especially in a case as important as your own car accident trial. However, there are advantages to letting the jury hear your story in your own words. For the jurors, hearing your story may help them feel your pain and hopefully have greater compassion for your situation. Your car accident lawyer will thoroughly prepare you for this part of the trial process.
- Expert witness testimony: Expert witnesses can include medical experts, financial experts, and accident reconstructionists. These impartial professionals can provide an objective opinion on the medical impact, financial repercussions, and circumstances that led up to your accident. This can be crucial in proving fault and securing a fair car accident settlement.
Witnesses are kept out of the courtroom until it is their turn to testify. This allows them to tell their own stories and prevents their testimonies from being affected by what other people say.
Along with witness testimony, your personal injury lawyer will also present other forms of evidence, such as:
- Medical evidence: X-rays, doctors’ reports, medical records, details of medical treatment, medical bills, and other clinical evidence that demonstrate the impact of the plaintiff’s injuries
- Photographs and videos: Photos taken by bystanders and accident victims at the accident scene can show the extent of the property damage and injuries the car accident caused; in certain locations, it may be possible to obtain surveillance camera or dashcam footage of the accident to strengthen your case
- Documentary evidence: Police reports, cell phone records, and financial records may all play a part in establishing liability and proving the losses you have suffered
Court clerks keep a record of all evidence presented during the trial.
Step 4: Defendant’s evidence
Now the defendant has an opportunity to present evidence to rebuff the plaintiff’s assertions. This may include presenting his or her own documentary evidence and witnesses.
During the trial process, each attorney first questions his or her own witnesses. Then they each have an opportunity to cross-examine the other party’s witnesses. This is the part many witnesses dread. However, with good preparation from your car accident attorney, you will be able to handle the pressure.
Step 5: Closing arguments
The closing arguments are the final opportunity for the car accident lawyers to persuade the judge or jury. Each lawyer will recap the main points of his or her case and try to leave a lasting impression in the minds of each juror.
Step 6: Jury deliberations
The judge will now address the jury, reminding the jurors of their obligations. They must decide on 2 points – whether the defendant is liable for harming the plaintiff and, if so, how much compensation must be paid. The jury deliberates behind closed doors with no one – not even the judge – allowed to be party to these discussions.
In Arkansas, the jury does not have to come to a unanimous decision. If 9 out of 12 members of the jury agree, the verdict can be conveyed to the court.
However, it is not always possible for the jury to reach a verdict. In these cases, the jury foreperson will convey that to the judge, who will then either instruct the jury to continue deliberating or declare a mistrial.
Step 7: The verdict
If the jury successfully reaches a verdict, they will be called back into the courtroom along with the plaintiff, the defendant, and each side’s legal counsel.
The judge will then ask the jury foreperson to read the verdict to the court, and this will become part of the trial record.
After the Trial
After going through the entire trial process, it is natural to hope you would simply collect your compensation and move on with your life. The problem is that things are rarely so simple.
Both sides may appeal the verdict. Also, collecting the damages can sometimes be challenging. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the car accident lawsuit process so you can successfully collect fair compensation.
Why Car Accident Trials Happen
A car accident trial is always the last resort. Most insurance companies do not want to go to trial, preferring to settle out of court. Also, most car accident victims would rather be spared the stress of a trial.
However, at times, going to court is unavoidable. The 2 main reasons are liability and fair settlement value. The parties may be unable to agree on who is liable or may be unable to agree on an acceptable amount of compensation. Thus, the only remaining recourse is to go to trial and ask a jury or judge to rule on the case.
Your Alternative Option – A Bench Trial
A bench trial does not involve a jury. A judge makes the final decisions about liability and compensation.
You may want to request a bench trial if your case is particularly complex, as a judge will have a better understanding of the law than the average juror. Bench trials are also more informal than jury trials and could help reduce some of your anxiety associated with going to trial.
Another consideration is cost. Bench trials cost less than jury trials. Typically, bench trials also proceed faster, with 1 survey finding the latter to last an average of 2 days less than a jury trial. This may partly be because there is no jury selection phase.
The same survey found that about 66 percent of plaintiffs won bench trials, compared with approximately 53 percent of plaintiffs in jury trials. However, these are just averages, and each case will be judged on its own merits.
Considerations Before Going to Trial
Going to court brings its own challenges. Before abandoning negotiations, your lawyer will talk you through the following considerations.
Cost of litigation
Going to trial is expensive and someone will have to pay those costs. Each case is different and the court may order the losing party to pay the winning party’s costs, yet you cannot rely on this and the reality is that these costs could drive down the final value of your settlement.
Trials can last for anything from a few days to several weeks, depending on the complexity of the case. Plus, you may have to wait a long time for your case to come to court.
All the time you are waiting, your expenses may be mounting up. This can cause stress and anxiety, potentially affecting your recovery. Insurance companies also want to settle as quickly as possible so they do not have outstanding liabilities on their books. Therefore, sometimes it can be mutually beneficial to settle out of court.
If you settle out of court, you are guaranteed to walk away with a car accident settlement. If you choose to go to court, though, there are no guarantees of victory. The court may decide that your liability exceeds 50 percent. This would mean that you were not entitled to compensation under Arkansas law.
Let a Former Insurance Adjuster Fight Your Car Accident Case
At Minton Law Firm, we understand that nobody wants to go to trial. However, if we feel it will give you the best chance of securing a fair settlement in your car accident case, we will fight your case in the courtroom with everything we have.
We are headed up by Justin Minton, a former insurance adjuster turned injury lawyer. As such, Justin and his legal team know the tactics insurance companies use to try to award you as little money as possible. We will use all the resources at our disposal to fight those tactics, giving you the best chance of a favorable outcome.
Our results page shows some of the outstanding verdicts we have achieved on behalf of our clients. So don’t delay. Schedule a free case consultation today by calling 855-Xadjuster or completing our online contact form.