Although Personal Injury Claims Rarely Go to Trial, You Still Need to be Aware of How The Trial Process Works in New Jersey
Personal injury trials are not as common as one would think. Frequently a lawyer can negotiate a settlement acceptable to both sides and prevent the case from going to trial. As a matter of fact, 95% of all personal injury cases are settled out of court. If you and your personal injury lawyer have decided that what is best for you is to take your case to court, you must be aware of what will take place to give you more confidence during the trial by knowing what to expect. At Cohen & Riechelson, you can be assured that your case is in excellent hands when you work with us. Our aggressive personal injury attorneys have the skills and preparedness to obtain top compensation for your injury.
Personal Injury Trial as The Last Option
As previously mentioned, most personal injury cases don’t ever see the inside of a courtroom. Frequently plaintiffs are worried about the process taking too long or having to testify in front of a jury and making a mistake. On the other hand, insurers are just as reticent to go to trial because it raises the stakes and the expenses for them. They will need to hire experts, analysts, investigators, adjusters, and their legal fees will also augment.
Because the insurance company has rebuffed all reasonable attempts by the plaintiff to settle, the case is taken to court. Insurance companies are willing to risk losing in a trial over being obligated to pay a large settlement out of court.
When dealing with the defendant outside of insurance claims, the motivation for refusing to pay a fair settlement to the injured party is equally motivated by cost.
Pros and Cons of Going to Personal Injury Trial
No one likes to go to court. It takes much more time and raises legal costs substantially. Trials can take anywhere from 3-6 months to more than a year. Composing a solid case requires gathering evidence through paperwork, hospital statements, specialists’ interviews, and other expert opinions. Financial pressure and anxiety surge when medical bills accumulate, and it can be challenging to trust the process and wait.
As more time passes, the case takes up the attorney’s energy and office hours, meaning more legal fees to pay when the settlement is awarded. Most attorneys, including those at Cohen & Riechelson, work on a contingency fee basis, which means they are paid when they win the case. That fee is usually lower when the case is settled out of court.
When going to trial, the verdict is not something decided by the plaintiff. Contrary to settlement negotiations, the decision is made by a jury. They base their decision on what they believe is fair. It is possible that they find the plaintiff partially to blame for the accident or that the severity of the injuries does not coincide with the accident itself. Sometimes, the jury may not believe the testimony regarding how the accident took place. In some cases, the jury may award much less than expected or anything at all.
The good news is that, more often than not, going to court will increase the likelihood of a more significant award than through a settlement out of court. Personal injury jury trials provide a more sympathetic audience eager to make the plaintiff whole by awarding economic and noneconomic damages such as emotional problems caused by the accident or how the family was affected when the plaintiff was injured.
Going to trial can offer the plaintiff a forum where they feel heard and are provided with closure from their trauma. Their life may be changed irreparably because of the injuries they sustained due to someone else’s careless actions. They carry a sense of helplessness addressed when the defendant is shown to have been negligent.
Chronological Stages of a Personal Injury Trial
#1 Jury Selection
From a group of approximately 20 people, six jurors will be chosen for the trial. One by one, the judge will explain in a very general way what the case is about. Each potential juror will answer questions about any predispositions or experiences they have had that are similar to the case. For example, someone who has participated as a defendant or a plaintiff in a personal injury case, or has relatives or friends who have as well, might have an idea already in their mind regarding the situation. Any indication of an inability to be objective is cause not to be chosen for the jury. Also, potential jurors who express hardships such as missing too much work, health concerns, or being first responders are excused from service.
#2 Opening Statements
The plaintiff’s lawyer gives their opening statement first. It is an overview of what happened, how the defendant is responsible, the damage it caused, and what will be proven throughout the proceedings. The defense attorney presents their perception of the events, a rebuttal of the plaintiff’s accusations, and their accusations as to why the plaintiff was to blame.
#3 Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination
This part of the trial is where the plaintiff’s lawyer presents the evidence that demonstrates the defendant’s fault for the injury using testimony from expert witnesses, photographs, witnesses who were on the scene and saw the accident, and medical staff such as doctors and physical rehabilitation specialists. Other witnesses, such as family members or friends, may be called to testify about the plaintiff’s mental or emotional state and the effect the injury has had on the plaintiff’s quality of life.
Be they for the plaintiff or the defendant, the steps in the testimony section of the trial looks like this: the witness takes the stand and has to take an oath to tell the truth under penalty of perjury. This is called being sworn in, and it is serious. Failure, to tell the truth could result in a charge of perjury. The witness is directly examined by the party for whom they were called to give vital information for either the plaintiff’s or defendant’s case, after which the other party will cross-examine the witness by catechizing their testimony and asking questions, thereby disproving what the plaintiff is alleging. After cross-examination, to stomp out any damage done by the other party, the side to whom the witness belongs may ask the witness additional questions.
Once the plaintiff’s show of evidence has concluded (this is called resting), the defense has its turn to present evidence, and the same format is followed as was for the plaintiff. The only difference is that after the defense has rested, the plaintiff is given an opportunity for a rebuttal, used by the plaintiff to contradict statements made by the defense. They can only refute the evidence already provided in the trial. This is not a time to present new evidence.
#4 Closing Arguments
This part of the trial is provided for the attorneys to present a summary of the evidence followed by an analysis which leads to their interpretation of a logical conclusion. The lawyer for the plaintiff goes first, followed by the defense, and ends with a brief rebuttal by the plaintiff’s attorney.
#5 Jury Instructions
The judge defines any vital legal terms and sets the parameters for the jury’s decision, presenting legal principles and defining terms such as a “preponderance of the evidence.” The judge also explains any other essential concepts pertaining to personal injuries, such as punitive damages and pain and suffering. The judge does not presume that the jury members are well-versed in legal jargon and provides specific instructions.
#5 Jury Deliberations and Verdict
The jury will leave the courtroom and go to another room to discuss the evidence, the questions they need to answer, and the verdict they will convey. Frequently, juries will send questions to the judge for clarity. The judge reads the question to the attorneys for both sides and decides how or if the question can be answered. Jury deliberation can last as little as two hours or as long as a few days.
When a verdict is reached, the jurors notify the bailiff, who notifies the judge, and the lawyers are also informed. It is important to note that with a jury of six, the decision must be unanimous or 5 out of 6. If it is not, the result will be considered a hung jury and a mistrial. The plaintiff can take their case to court again with a new trial should they see fit.
The Use of Witnesses and Experts in a Trial
The first witness usually put on the stand is an eyewitness, someone who saw the accident the moment it happened. The expert witnesses which are helpful to a plaintiff seeking damages for personal injury are doctors, radiologists, physical therapists, and surgeons who can explain the severity of the plaintiff’s injuries. A vocational expert can testify to whether the plaintiff will be able to work after having been injured. Forensic specialists can detail how the accident occurred and who was at fault. Mental health experts can testify to the plaintiff’s emotional trauma or PTSD following the accident.
The Importance of Your Personal Testimony
Legally, no, you are not required to testify. But it is your story, your words, your pain that the jury must see to win their favor. It is one thing to have your doctor explain your injuries. It is entirely another for you to talk about the damage to your everyday life your injuries have caused. Your attorney will prepare you for your testimony and cross-examination, giving you the confidence you need to testify assertively and honestly.
Contact Cohen & Riechelson to Equip You for Your Personal Injury Trial
Personal injury lawsuits require a careful lawyer who investigates your claim, gathers evidence, and negotiates with the other party. They are familiar with the low-balling tactics of the insurance companies and are determined to get you the settlement you deserve.
Taking your injury lawsuit to court is risky. You need a lawyer who is a strategist and knows how to build your case tier by tier with the help of expert witnesses and specialists. No stone can be left unturned when it comes to providing you with excellent representation.
The lawyers at Cohen & Riechelson have over 50 years of experience in personal injury law, placing us in a unique class of law firms in New Jersey with the type of background and trial experience to successfully recover damages for your injuries from a motorcycle accident, car accident, pedestrian accident, slip and fall incident, or another accident that left you injured by someone else’s negligence. Our primary concern is to get you as much compensation as possible, while supporting you and making you feel heard and informed at every step of the personal injury claim journey.
Our firm assists injured victims in Woodbridge, Robbinsville, Trenton, Princeton, West Windsor, Lambertville, East Windsor, Hamilton, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Burlington County, and throughout New Jersey. Call for a free consultation at (609) 528-2596 now. We look forward to addressing your questions and working to make you whole again.