What Happens When You Go to Court for a Car Accident?
The worst has happened. You were driving along, minding your own business when . . . WHAM . . . another car runs a red light and T-bones you. Chances are that you’ve now been seriously injured and the other driver is at fault. What happens if you can’t decide how much your injuries are worth? What about emotional pain and the time you had to take off work, not to mention replacing your car? If no agreement can be made, chances are that your car crash might become part of a personal injury case that has to go to trial.
Unfortunately, this is probably the last thing you want to deal with. When someone else causes an accident, you’d think it would be much easier to get justice. If you find yourself in a situation like this and you aren’t exactly looking forward to the trial process, maybe this example trial can give you an idea of what to expect.
Once your accident case has been filed, the judge and attorneys involved will begin to select a jury. To be fair to both parties, the jurors are asked questions to be sure of a fair and impartial ruling. You won’t see any of this part of the process because it usually happens behind the scenes until a pool of twelve people is found.
Once the trial has begun, the first order of business is for your lawyer to give an opening statement. This will set the stage for your side of the case, laying out the scene for the jury. After the plaintiff’s statements have been made, it will be the defendant’s lawyer’s opportunity to lay the scene for their side as well, making sure that the jury has a brief understanding of each side’s position. This stage of the trial is usually relatively short, lasting only around fifteen to twenty minutes.
During this stage of the trial, your lawyer will likely call you to the stand and ask you questions. This time is all about getting all the evidence and information out there that pertains to the accident. Your lawyer will likely call any witnesses who saw the crash happen firsthand, if there were any. Evidence such as videos, pictures of your vehicle, and even traffic-cam footage may be used.
As the plaintiff, your auto accident lawyer is responsible for building your case and collecting evidence to tell your side of the story. You will likely be the first witness called since you were actually involved in the accident. Following this, other witnesses may be called, and you may even be called again. Often, a lawyer will do this to segue into another witness such as a doctor. This is because no bit of information about the accident is too small, including medical care you received afterward.
For example, your lawyer might call Jackie to the stand as a witness. Jackie was filling her car with gas at the corner when the accident happened, and she saw everything as it happened. Jackie would relay exactly what she saw to the jury, and your lawyer would then bring in the traffic-cam footage.
This segue from one to the other will help cement your case since you’d have two points of evidence that backed up your side of the accident. You’d be called again, to explain your injuries, just before the doctor that treated you in the emergency room was called. Your doctor might provide proof of injuries such as X-rays and other scans, along with their own medical knowledge, to explain how your injuries happened.
Once your auto accident lawyer has presented all of the evidence and witnesses, your side will rest, signaling the defendant’s turn to display evidence. The defense will then set their own stage for the accident, which usually involves calling witnesses forward, presenting their evidence, and generally trying to prove that their client was not at fault.
As an example, the defense lawyer might note that it was very sunny outside the day of the accident. Weather maps and pictures of the location where the accident took place might be brought in to attempt to prove that defendant could not properly see if the light was green or red.
If the defendant also has injuries, they may be showcased as well, along with a doctor’s opinion on them. The defense may also call another doctor who worked with you who might have a different opinion than the first. Every witness they call and every bit of evidence they provide will have the sole purpose of disproving your claim, even if the defendant was at fault.
Once all of the evidence has been shown, each lawyer is then given a chance to give a closing argument. These closing statements are meant to summarize the evidence while trying to persuade the jury to side with them. An injury attorney with trial experience may even attempt to persuade the jury to see the evidence in a certain light.
After closing arguments, the jury leaves the courtroom and goes into a separate room. In this room, they talk about the case and attempt to reach a decision. No one but the jury is allowed in this room, and no one has access to voice or video of what the jury speaks about.
While there is no set time limit, most car accident cases reach a verdict within hours. Some, depending on the evidence, may last for days. Once the jury has reached a verdict, everyone is gathered once more in the courtroom to hear what they have decided.
Reaching a Verdict
Once it is announced that a verdict has been reached and everyone is in the courtroom, the verdict is given. The verdict cannot be changed or altered once it is delivered since it is added to the official record of the case.
For example, after hours of deliberation, the jury and everyone else returns to the courtroom. The jury announces that they have found the defendant guilty of causing your car accident, even after all the evidence was shown. This is relayed, word for word, into the case file. Once it is completed, it is up to the judge to decide how much the defendant is to pay you, and when.
While no one wants to get into a car accident—even if you get a new car in the end—they do happen. The process can be long and stressful, but once you know how it works, it might not be so bad, especially if it helps you get justice. It’s important that you remember that the trial process will vary depending on your own details and circumstances.
However, not understanding the process or not having any idea of what’s going to happen can be the worst part of the whole ordeal. Furthermore, you should know that many car accident cases are settled before court even becomes necessary, meaning that you won’t ever have to step into court. An experienced lawyer can usually negotiate a fair settlement on your behalf without going through the trial process. Having a good lawyer on your side can make all the difference.