Trial FAQs

Q. Will my case go to trial?

A. It depends on many factors. Many cases settle before trial. Generally, the cases which are properly prepared settle.

Q. What cases do go to trial?

A. Any case potentially may be tried. As a result, it is always important for a plaintiff to hire a skilled trial attorney. Cases that end up going to trial are generally the ones in which the plaintiff and the defendant view the case so differently that they simply cannot resolve their differences in a settlement.

Q. When will my case go to trial?

A. The answer to this question is generally determined by the complexity of the case and the court calendar. Some cases take longer to get to trial, and some get to trial sooner. In personal injury cases, it is a good idea to wait until your medical treatment has concluded in order to have more certainty regarding your medical future.

Q. What are the advantages and disadvantages of going to trial?

A. From a plaintiff's point of view, the advantages or disadvantages of going to trial must be weighed in light of the proximity of the defendant or insurance company's settlement offer to the value of the case. The lower a defendant's offer relative to the plaintiff's evaluation of the case, the easier it is to refuse the offer and go to trial. If, on the other hand, a defendant's offer is close to the plaintiff's attorney's prediction of what a jury will do if the case goes to trial, then it becomes a much more risky proposition to go to trial.

The benefit of settling a case short of trial is that all risk is avoided. As anyone who has followed trials knows, what a jury will do in a given case is totally unpredictable and, therefore, going to trial is always a risk.

Q. How long will my trial last?

A. The length of a trial will vary depending upon the complexity of the case, the number of witnesses and the court's scheduling. Jury trials generally take at least three days to complete, and can go as long as many months or even years.

Q. What can I expect to happen at a trial?

A. The format of a trial does not vary much from case to case. A jury is selected, usually by a combination of questions and challenges by the attorneys and the judge. Each attorney then gives an opening statement, summarizing their case. The plaintiff then puts on his or her case through the questioning of witnesses and introducing documents into evidence. When the plaintiff rests, the defendant presents his or her case in a similar manner. After the defense rests, the plaintiff is given the opportunity to present any rebuttal witnesses or testimony. The plaintiff makes a closing argument, followed by the defendant's, and the plaintiff is then allowed a rebuttal argument. The jury is then instructed on the law by the judge and then go to the jury room to deliberate. After reaching a verdict, the jury is called back into the courtroom and the verdict is read aloud by the court clerk.

Q. Who will decide my case?

A. Most cases involve jury trials. When a jury is involved in a trial, the judge decides all of the issues of law. Some of the law is then given to the jury by the judge to help them reach their decision. The jury then reaches a verdict.

In a trial by the judge alone there is no jury and the judge decides all issues of fact and law.

Q. How does a jury decide the case?

A. After hearing all of the evidence and the law that applies to the particular case, a judge further instructs the jury on how they should weigh the evidence and deliberate in order to reach their decision. The jurors are instructed to take their time and allow each member of the jury to state their point of view. Generally, the jurors do take their job very seriously and attempt to reach a fair decision.

Q. How long does a jury deliberate?

A. Jury deliberations can take anywhere from 15 minutes in very clear cases to weeks in complex cases in which the jurors either have to decide many different issues in order to reach a verdict, or relatively simple cases in which for one reason or another they become deadlocked. Once the jurors and judge are convinced that the jurors are hopelessly deadlocked, a mistrial will be declared and the case will have to be retried at a future date. This phenomenon is known as a "hung jury."

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