Oftentimes, when we think of personal injury lawsuits, we imagine a trial complete with a judge and jury. However, the majority of claims do not reach the trial stage; in fact, only about one of every twenty claims will actually see the inside of a court room. Why do some claims proceed to trial? The main reason is that the plaintiff and defendant were unable to reach a settlement before trial. In order to reach an agreement, both parties must come to an agreement on who was at fault for the injury and what amount of damages the victim should receive. If these issues are still in contention, they will need to be determined by a fact-finder at a trial.
Pre-Trial Process in Washington, D.C.
Negotiations are the primary phase of the legal claims process. Negotiations can take place through the entirety of the case up until just before a trial. In general, the purpose of negotiation is to avoid a lengthy trial, while still arriving at a final outcome that is acceptable for both parties. About 95% of cases filed settle prior to trial. In some jurisdictions, parties are required to attempt some form of pre-trial resolution through arbitration, a settlement conference, or mediation. These requirements are in place to encourage out-of-court resolution and forgo the need for a resource intensive trial.
Washington, D.C. Trial Process
Civil trials generally follow the same format, starting with opening statements. Both parties will give a presentation to the jury describing what the evidence they are going to present as well as their theory of what occurred during the incident at issue. The plaintiff then presents a case, calling witnesses and submitting relevant evidence demonstrating the defendant's liability and the appropriate amount of damages. Next, the defense presents evidence refuting the plaintiff's claims, introducing alternate theories of liability, and/or demonstrating 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. If it is deemed necessary, 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 will continue until both parties rest.
In any trial a plaintiff will bear 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. If the plaintiff has proven her case by 51%, then the greater weight of evidence is in her favor, and she has met her burden of proof.
After all of the relevant evidence has been presented, both sides will their present closing arguments to the jury. This a final, impassioned statement in which each side attempts to persuade the jury that the evidence they have seen and/or heard should lead them to a particular decision. The plaintiff argues the evidence demonstrates the defendant is liable for a specific amount of damages; the defense argues the opposite. After closing arguments, the judge will read the jury instructions, which generally consist of the applicable law for the case. The jury will then be moved to an area for deliberations in order to reach a decision. Once a decision has been reached, the jury will inform the bailiff. Court will then be reconvened and the decision will be announced.
There are times when a trial does not have a jury; the judge is the fact-finder in such a trial. This is referred to as a bench trial. In a bench trial, the procedure will remain the same, but at the conclusion of evidence, the judge will make the final determination as to which party will win.
Washington, D.C. Trial Attorneys
The Gilman & Bedigian team has competent trial attorneys with extensive litigation experience in Washington, D.C.. We will not hesitate to take a case to trial. 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.