What To Expect When Your Personal Injury Claim Goes To Trial
The majority of personal injury claims are settled out of court. However, for those claims where you and the person you have sued cannot reach a fair resolution, it may be necessary to go to trial and ask a judge or jury to decide the case.
Most personal injury trials are conducted in front of a jury of six people. The jurors are considered to be the triers of fact. The trial judge will decide what evidence is admissible at trial, and the jury will be asked to decide whether the person you have sued was at fault for the accident. They will then assign a dollar value to the injuries you have sustained.
The person who was injured and is seeking compensation is known as the “plaintiff.” The defendant is the person being sued.
The plaintiff has the burden of proving their case. For those who have watched one of the legal dramas on television, you might have some idea of what this means. However, unlike a criminal case where the prosecutors have to prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” in personal injury cases the plaintiff typically has to prove their case on a lower standard known as the “balance of probabilities.”
You may have seen a picture of the scales of justice. The balance of probabilities is often described as tipping the scales of justice ever so slightly in your favour, whereas proving a case beyond a reasonable doubt requires a jury to be 99% convinced of the facts presented to them.
At the beginning of the trial, each party typically makes opening statements, outlining the evidence they expect the jury to hear from the witnesses that will testify.
To prove the case at trial, you must give evidence and explain how your life has been changed as a result of the accident. While on the stand, you would describe how the accident happened and then tell the jury what your life was like before the accident, what injuries you sustained in the incident, and how these injuries have impacted your life.
To assist the jury in understanding the profound changes to your life, other supporting witnesses may also give evidence. Friends, family, co-workers, usually known as “lay witnesses,” would testify about the changes they have noticed in you since the accident.
Health care providers treating the injured party, as well as relevant specialists, may help the jury understand your medical diagnosis and prognosis. The number and type of experts that will give evidence at trial will depend on your specific injuries.
Keep in mind that once you or any other of the witnesses who appear on your behalf give evidence, the defendant’s lawyer will have the opportunity to conduct a cross examination.
During a cross examination, the lawyer may ask a series of leading questions designed to lead you into making a series of admissions. These admissions may then be used to paint a picture that undermines your case.
Careful preparation is required to anticipate the avenues by which a defendant’s lawyer may attempt to frame your case in an unfavourable light. We at Preszler Law Firm have been down this path many times, and may be able to help you avoid the pitfalls that can face a plaintiff or witness on the stand.
Once the plaintiff has called all of their evidence, the defendant will then present their case in the same manner. The plaintiff will also have the opportunity to cross examine each of the defendant’s witnesses.
Once all the evidence has been put to the jury, the parties will make their closing arguments. In the closing argument each party has the chance to weave together all the evidence that has been presented in the hope of persuading the trier of fact to rule in their favour.
It is at this stage that we communicate the themes of your case, using a range of narrative techniques to not only present the facts, but to put forward a compelling “story” which explains the broader context of who you are, and what has happened to you since the accident.
Once each party has made their closing statements, the judge will give their “charge” to the jury. In the charge, the trial judge instructs the jury on what legal principles to consider when arriving at their verdict.
In a civil trial, the trial judge will then put a series of questions on which the jury will deliberate. Five out of the six jurors must agree to the answer of a question in order for there to be a verdict. If multiple questions are posed to the jury, it is not required that the same five people agree on each question.
The jury will then start their deliberations, working together until they arrive at a verdict. If the jury is unable to come to an agreement, the judge may consider them deadlocked, and declare a mistrial. In the event of a mistrial, the plaintiff and defendant will return to try the case at a later date, with a different jury.
This brief overview of what you may expect at trial is meant as an introduction to the many moving pieces of this legal process. To address any questions you may have that are specific to your unique case, or to see if the services of our Ontario personal injury lawyers may be a fit for you, contact us for a free initial consultation at 1-800-JUSTICE, or through our online booking form.