The main reason any personal injury case in Maryland will go to trial is because the plaintiff and defendant could not, or would not, come to a settlement agreement beforehand. While there are a myriad of things that a plaintiff and defendant may disagree over, two of the most common issues that parties disagree on are who is at fault for the accident or injury and what amount of damages the injured should receive.
Pre-Trial in Maryland
Once a lawsuit has been filed, the parties are still likely going to be making an effort to settle the case prior to going to trial because it is advantageous to the parties as they retain greater control over the settlement process and there is less of a time delay. Pre-trial settlement is actually incredibly common. About 95% of cases filed settle prior to going to trial. Some states even have a pre-trial requirement that the parties attend a settlement conference, arbitration, or mediation in an effort to reach an agreement and forego the need for a trial. Maryland courts vary by venue, but some do have mandatory pre-trial settlement conference or mediation requirements.
Thus, it is much less common for a case to even reach the trial stage, with only about one in twenty personal injury cases being decided by a judge or jury.
The Trial Process in Maryland
The trial process is fairly familiar to most people. If you have ever seen an episode of "Law & Order" then you already have some idea of how a trial works. However, real life trials tend to be less about surprise witnesses and stunning confessions and more about careful planning and rules of procedure.
Civil trials generally follow the same format. First both parties give opening statements to the jury describing what the evidence they are going to present will show. In a personal injury case, the plaintiff then presents his or her case, putting on witnesses and submitting relevant evidence showing how the defendant is liable and what amount of damages is proper. The defendant then presents his or her own evidence refuting the plaintiff's claims, introduces alternate theories of liability, and demonstrates any other applicable legal defense in order to show that the defendant is not liable for plaintiff's injuries. If liability is not at issue the defendant may simply refute the amount of damages that he or she must pay. If needed, once the defense has put on their last witness, a plaintiff can then rebut some of the evidence presented by the defense. The defense may in turn do the same. This continues until both parties rest.
Once both sides have rested, closing arguments are presented to the jury. The closing argument is a final, impassioned statement to the jury in which each side attempts to persuade the jury that the evidence they have seen must lead them to a specific conclusion. The plaintiff argues the evidence shows the defendant is liable and the defendant argues the opposite. After closing arguments, the judge reads the jury instructions, usually the applicable law in the case. The jury then goes into deliberations in order to decide the fate of the parties involved. Once a unanimous decision is reached, the jury informs the bailiff. Court is reconvened and the jury's decision is read to the court.
Occasionally, a trial is tried before a judge and not a jury. This is called a bench trial. The trial procedure is the same as that of a jury trial, except at the end of the presentation of evidence, the judge decides which side wins.
In any trial a plaintiff has what is called a burden of proof. This is the standard by which the evidence must show the defendant's liability. In a personal injury case, the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence. This means, looking at the evidence, if even a feather weight weighs in favor of one side, that side must win. Thus if the plaintiff has proved her case by 51%, then the greater weight of evidence is in her favor, and she has met her burden of proof.
If your case does happen to reach the trial phase, Gilman & Bedigian has competent trial attorneys with extensive litigation experience in Maryland. In fact, we will not hesitate to take a case to trial if that seems to be the best course of action based on the facts and circumstances of that case. If you believe you have personal injury or medical malpractice case, or if you have questions about the legal process, please contact our office today.