What to Expect During a Civil Personal Injury Trial

At Berg Injury Lawyers, we want to get our clients the best results for their claim in the least amount of time. But if the insurance company doesn’t play fair, we’ll take them to court and fight for your rights.

If your case goes to trial, you may have questions about what to expect. We have answers.

How is a civil trial different from a criminal trial?

In a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a civil trial, we only have to demonstrate by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the defendant is at fault.

In other words, if a jury believes it is even somewhat likely the defendant is responsible for your injuries, it must rule in your favor.

Who pays the money awarded in a personal injury trial?

Although a person or company may be named as the defendant in your lawsuit, in most cases, their insurance company actually pays any money you are awarded.

Who pays the defense attorneys?

The insurance company hires their own attorneys to defend them at trial. They are paid at their hourly rate.

Do the defense’s medical experts work for the insurance company?

The insurance company pays an hourly rate to any medical expert called by the defense. They are paid very high hourly rates and often work with the same insurance companies and lawyers over and over.

What are general damages?

General damages (GD) are often referred to as “pain and suffering.” They include all the ways an injury has impacted a person’s life, such as anxieties, fears (of surgery; of experiences like the one that produced the injury) and social isolation (due to immobility caused by the injury).

Although medical expenses are more obvious, general damages are by far the most significant loss an injured person suffers.

What are the steps in a civil trial?

Most civil personal injury trials follow the same 5-Step process. If your case goes to trial, here’s what you can expect.

  1. Step 1: Jury Selection

    The judge and attorneys will question potential jurors. The judge can dismiss potential jurors if they aren’t capable of being impartial. Attorneys on both sides can dismiss a certain number of jurors for any reason.

    During jury selection, the judge will try to uncover any biases that could affect a juror’s objectivity. The judge can dismiss potential jurors based on these biases.

    The attorneys for the plaintiff and defendant can dismiss jurors for any reason, but there is a limit on how many they can dismiss. Both sides will try to select the jury they think will be most likely to rule in their favor.

    For instance, the defendant’s attorneys may dismiss a juror if they discover that an insurance company treated him or her unfairly in the past, as that bad experience could influence the juror’s perspective.

    The jury selection process continues until 12 people are accepted as jurors for the trial.

  2. Step 2: Opening Statements

    At the start of the trial, attorneys for both sides will present a summary of their arguments and what they will attempt to prove or disprove during the trial.

    The plaintiff’s attorney will give the first opening statement. In this statement, we will summarize for the jury how the defendant was negligent and why he/she should be held responsible for your injuries. The defendant’s attorney will then have a chance to respond with their own opening statement.

    There are no questions or answers given during opening statements and no evidence is presented. Opening statements are essentially the trial’s opening act, setting up all that will follow.

  3. Step 3: Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination

    This is the main part of a civil trial. Attorneys for both sides will call witnesses to testify and will present evidence.

    After opening statements, we will present your case to the court. This may involve calling witnesses who saw your accident, medical experts to testify about your injuries, and other types of experts and witnesses. We will also present evidence that proves the negligence or fault of the defendant.

    Every witness we call to testify must take an oath stating they will only tell the truth to the best of their ability. Your lawyer will call and question key witnesses first, after which the defendant will have the opportunity to cross-examine, or ask their own questions.

    After we have presented your case, the defendant will call witnesses and present evidence of their own. Don’t be discouraged if the opposing attorneys try to discredit your injuries or minimize your pain. Remember, the insurance company is a business, and is trying to pay you as little as possible or avoid paying altogether.

    As the plaintiff, we will have the opportunity to respond to any evidence they present. We won’t let them misrepresent the facts.

  4. Step 4: Closing Arguments

    Once all witnesses have been called and evidence presented, the attorneys for the plaintiff and defendant will give closing statements. This is an opportunity for both parties to sum up their arguments for the jury’s consideration.

  5. Step 5: Jury Deliberation and Verdict

    The judge will instruct the jury on the legal standards it must follow while reaching a decision. The jurors will then be released for deliberation and ultimately come to a verdict.

    In a criminal case, the prosecution must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a defendant is guilty. But in a personal injury case, we only need to prove negligence based on a “preponderance of the evidence.” In other words, we must show the defendant was most likely negligent or most likely responsible for your injury.

    The judge will instruct the jurors on what a “preponderance of the evidence” means and any other legal guidelines they must follow. The jurors can then deliberate (or discuss the case) for an unrestricted amount of time.

    During deliberation, the jury can ask questions to try to clarify any legal guidelines they are confused about, but no new evidence, testimony, or arguments can be presented.

    Jury deliberation can take hours, days, or weeks, depending on the complexity of the case. In California, the court requires a unanimous decision, meaning all jurors must agree on the verdict. If the jury can’t reach a unanimous decision, the judge can declare a mistrial, and the case will be retried or dismissed altogether.

    Once the jury has finished deliberating and reached a decision, the judge will usually read the verdict in open court.