Trial of a Civil Case
Many people mistakenly believe that if a case makes it to the courtroom that the insurance company has already paid money to the injured party, and the jury trial is about making the individual defendant pay out of their own pocket. Nothing could be further from the truth. In cases that end up in the courtroom, insurance companies do not pay a penny until the jury returns its verdict and the court enters a judgment in favor of the injured person. In many cases, there are multiple insurance companies involved on behalf of a single at-fault defendant.
What is ironic about jury trials is that there is a court rule that prohibits the lawyers, parties, and witnesses from even mentioning the word “insurance” in the courtroom. If someone forgets and says the word “insurance” in front of the jury, the defense is likely to move for a mistrial. This law was passed at the urging of the insurance industry lobby. The defense never wants the jury to know that there is an insurance policy that is going to pay the jury’s verdict amount. The defense wants the jury to falsely believe that the defendant will be paying out of their own pocket.
Filing a suit
Once a lawsuit is filed, the at-fault party’s insurance company steps in and hires the at-fault party an insurance defense lawyer. This costs the at-fault party nothing. The insurance company pays all the defense attorney’s fees. After the case is filed, it quickly moves into the discovery phase, where the parties exchange written discovery to try and gather information from each other. There are three kinds of written discovery: 1) interrogatories – which are written questions that must be answered by the party and certified to be true and accurate; 2) requests for production of documents – which are written requests for specific categories of documents like medical records, bills, training records, etc.; and 3) requests for admission – which are written statements that one party would like the other party to admit are true. After the written discovery phase, the case moves into what are called “depositions.”
The person giving testimony at a deposition must take an oath to tell the truth. There is also a court reporter present who records every word that each person says during the deposition. Depositions are often videotaped, so the video can be played in court if the parties do not settle. In civil cases, the attorneys can depose any other party or witness, as long as they comply with the court’s scheduling rules. Depositions are usually prohibited during the time right before trial. Once depositions are completed, the case goes to mediation.
Jury Selection and Trial
The court room clerk will randomly select jurors to come out of the panel and take a seat in the jury box. The attorneys are required to stay seated during jury selection. Twelve jurors are seated in the jury box during the selection process. Attorneys are not supposed to discuss the facts of the case or what they think the evidence will be during jury selection.
Many attorneys try to figure out which jurors they believe will be the most sympathetic to their client’s position and keep those jurors, and at the same time figure out which jurors will be the least sympathetic and remove those jurors.
At Davis Law Group, we try to allow jurors to make the decision of whether to sit on the jury or not. Rather than discussing a juror’s favorite book or what bumper sticker they have on their car, we try to discuss the principles at issue in the case. Having a conversation about the principles in the case helps us identify juror biases or prejudices that might make it difficult for a juror to sit on this particular case. The only caveat is that we do not have absolute power to decide who stays and who goes home. The judge and the defense attorney both also have a say. At the end of the conversation, we ask each juror if they would like to be a juror on the case. If the juror wants to sit on the jury, we do our best to make that happen. If a jury wants to go home, we do our best to make that happen. While we do not have the final say on this issue, we do try out best to follow each potential juror’s wish.
After the defense puts on all of its evidence, the attorneys will give closing arguments. These are arguments by the attorneys that are supposed to sum up the case. Juror research shows that by this point in the case, most jurors have already made up their minds about what they think should happen. This is usually the time when each attorney tells the jury what they want them to in terms of their verdict. How much money the jury verdict should include for damages. The word “verdict” means speak the truth. The court usually gives a short instruction to the jury about closing arguments. Judge’s usually point out that closing arguments are not evidence. During closing arguments, many attorneys’ attempt to spur the jury to action – to render a verdict that speaks the truth of the case.
After the attorneys give their closing arguments, the jury will be excused to the jury room for an extended break. This break is necessary because the court needs to have what is called a “charge conference.” This is the time when the parties argue about which specific instructions they believe the court should give to the jury. The jury instructions are literally a written version of the law that governs the case. Once the judge decides what instructions he/she will give the jury, the jury is brought back into the courtroom. The judge then reads the jury instructions to the jury. After the jury instructions are read to the jury, the jury is sent back to the jury deliberation room to decide their verdict.
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