Mesa AZ | Recovering Medical Costs in a car accident
Q: A few months ago I was involved in a car accident. Due to the accident, I broke bones in my leg that required surgery. Now I have some fairly large medical bills. I am preparing to bring a lawsuit against the person who caused the accident so that I can recover my medical costs. I am planning on hiring an attorney. I understand we could reach some sort of settlement, but if my case does end up in trial, can you give me a general idea of what the trial will be like?
A: First of all, most cases do settle before trial. This is usually a good thing. A settlement allows the parties to end their case with a resolution that they mutually agree upon. At trial, the parties will not be seeking a mutually agreeable result. A trial is an adversarial setting, where both sides present their cases against each other and then a jury (or sometimes, a judge) decides who wins. This makes trials inherently unpredictable: you could end up with more than you hoped for, or you could end up with nothing, or something in between. This unpredictability is one of the reasons why a pre-trial settlement is an attractive way to resolve a case.
However, sometimes the parties cannot agree on a settlement, and they go to trial. If you find yourself going to trial on your personal injury claim, here is a general overview of what you can expect:
First will be jury selection. Here, your attorney, the defendant’s attorney (you are the plaintiff), and the judge will select a jury for the trial from a pool of jurors. This will essentially be a process of elimination. The judge will give the jury pool an overview of the case, the parties, and the witnesses who will testify. Each of the attorneys and the judge will then ask questions of each prospective juror. The intent of the questions will be to root out bias towards the plaintiff or defendant’s respective cases, witnesses, or the court in general. Jurors who are found to have such bias or other disqualifying characteristics will be stricken from the jury pool. Eventually, the jury pool will be whittled down to the jury that will decide your case. The jury will be sworn in and instructed on the trial process and rules. Then, outside of the presence of the jury, the attorneys will get a chance with the judge to resolve any final pre-trial issues, such as the admissibility of certain evidence.
The trial can then begin. The jury might receive more instructions, and then your attorney will get a chance to give an opening statement. He or she will stand up and give the jury an overview of your case, kind of like a preview. This will probably include a summary of the evidence and witnesses who will testify during the trial. The defendant’s attorney will then give his opening statement. Opening statements might be quite long or very short, depending on your case and the way you and your attorney want to present it.
After opening statements, your attorney will present your case to the jury. The presentation will be carried out through evidence and witnesses. Since you were in a car accident, your witnesses might include other drivers or pedestrians who witnessed the accident, the responding police officers, medical personnel who treated you, and probably you yourself, among others. Your attorney will call each of your witnesses to the stand, and the judge will swear them in. Your attorney will then proceed to ask questions that will prompt each witness to “tell their story,” so to speak. This is how the jury will learn about your case. For example, if you testify, your attorney might ask you about what you remember about the accident, how you know it was the defendant driving the car that hit you, what your injuries were, etc. Your attorney will also use witnesses to admit evidence, such as photographs of the scene of the accident or a diagram of what occurred. After your attorney examines a witness, the defendant’s attorney will get a chance to ask that witness questions as well. This is called cross-examination.
After your attorney finishes with your case, the defendant’s attorney will present his case, using the same method of presenting evidence and testimony through witnesses. Your attorney will get a chance to cross-examine each of the defendant’s witnesses as well.
During the presentation of each side’s respective case, either attorney might raise objections. An objection is when an attorney brings up an issue to the judge. Oftentimes objections will be about certain evidence and whether it is legally admissible in the trial. The judge will rule on each objection, sometimes outside of the presence of the jury.
After all the witnesses have been examined and all of the evidence has been presented, each attorney will get a chance for closing statements to the jury. These will usually be a little longer and more detailed than the opening statements, and each attorney will also argue their respective case. This means that your attorney will probably end his closing statement by telling the jury what your desired resolution is: probably to find the defendant at fault for the accident and your injuries and then to grant a specific monetary amount for damages to compensate you for what happened.
After closing statements, the judge will give the jury instructions about the law they are to use to decide the case, and then send them to deliberate. The jury will deliberate in a secluded jury room, and they will have access to the evidence admitted during the trial and their own personal notes. When they are finished deliberating, the judge will be notified and the jury will be brought back into the courtroom. At that point, the jury will give its verdict, and your case will be decided.
This has not been an exhaustive explanation of everything that occurs in personal injury trials, and every trial is going to be unique, but I hope this brief summary has been helpful to you. If you want to know more about this subject, please feel free to give us a call.
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you or someone you know wishes to seek the help of an experienced personal injury attorney regarding What Can I Expect at Trial? or other personal injury matters, call 480.461.5300. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.