Attorneys typically don't want to go to court to get a fair settlement for his or her client in a car accident case. Ideally, the attorney will negotiate an out-of-court settlement that covers the cost of medical care and other financial losses for the accident victim. However, when negotiation is not possible and the attorney decides the best course of action is to go to trial, the victim will want to know what to expect.
Civil vs. Criminal Trials
If you’ve ever seen a fictional portrayal of a trial on TV, you have probably heard of many of the legal terms we will explain here and may think you have a pretty good idea of what happens during a trial. However, it’s important to keep in mind that, if you are suing another driver in a car accident case, you will not go to criminal court. This will be a civil proceeding. If the other driver is facing criminal charges for drunk driving, for example, he may have to appear in criminal court, but that case would be handled by the prosecutor’s office, not by your attorney. You may be asked to testify in a criminal trial, but the result of that trial would be a verdict against the other driver, not a financial settlement for you.
The Legal Process for a Car Accident Claim
If your car accident case goes to trial, you can expect the process to look something like the following:
- Jury selection. One reason attorneys do not generally like having to take cases to trial is that juries can be very unpredictable. To offset this, attorneys for both sides will ask potential jurors questions and dismiss anyone they think will not be capable of reaching an impartial verdict. Jury selection can take a day or two to complete.
- Opening statements. Each attorney will present his client’s side of the case in a brief opening statement. They will each tell their version of the events of the crash and may reveal how they plan to prove that their version represents the truth.
- Presentation of plaintiff’s evidence. The burden of proving allegations of fault falls on the plaintiff, or victim, in a car accident case, so his attorney will present evidence first. He will likely start by calling his client to the stand to recount what happened in the accident and will corroborate the plaintiff’s version with other witnesses from the scene of the accident. The plaintiff will also be asked to describe his injuries, losses, pain, and suffering and this will likely be backed up by testimony from a doctor and presentation of medical records.
- Presentation of defendant’s evidence. The defendant’s attorney will then present evidence to prove his side of the story. The jury will hear from the defendant and may also hear from witnesses who support his version of events. The defendant’s attorney may refute the plaintiff’s medical evidence by calling another doctor who disputes the original claims or by presenting evidence of a previous injury suffered by the plaintiff or evidence that the plaintiff is not actually injured at all.
- Closing arguments. Once all of the evidence has been presented, each attorney will summarize the evidence he presented and make a last attempt to convince the jury to find in his client’s favor. Closing arguments often appeal to the emotions of the jury as they do not have to present hard evidence.
- Jury deliberation. As in a criminal case, the jury will receive specific instructions from the judge about what their possible decisions can be and what each decision means. They will then be taken to a private room to discuss the evidence and witness testimony and reach a verdict. Most juries in car accident cases reach a verdict within a few hours, but there is no time limit to reach a decision.
- Verdict. Once they have decided on a verdict, the jury will return to the courtroom to announce it. The jury may find in favor of the plaintiff, meaning the victim wins the case, or the defendant, meaning they do not find him at fault in the accident. If they find in favor of the plaintiff, the jury may also determine the settlement amount to be paid to him, or this determination may be made at a later stage.
Most car accident cases only take a few days from jury selection to verdict, but they can take longer. It is also possible that a settlement will be reached between the parties before the trial is complete, in which case, the jury will be dismissed.
You Need Experience on Your Side
Whether your case goes to trial or not, you will need an attorney who is experienced in gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and documenting injuries. Our car accident attorneys will work hard to make sure you get the best settlement you can. We have offices in Kansas City, Overland Park, Lee’s Summit, and Parkville to serve you. Call us at (888) 348-2616 to schedule an appointment now.