After a claimant files a car wreck lawsuit in circuit court, the defendant will be served with a copy of the lawsuit. The defendant’s insurance company will hire an attorney to file an Answer to the lawsuit and represent the defendant. The claimant will try to set a trial date as quickly as possible, to prevent the at-fault driver and his or her insurance company from dragging things out even further.
During the time leading up to the trial, the claimant and the defense conduct discovery. Discovery consists of written questions exchanged between the parties, depositions of parties and witnesses, and de bene esse depositions of expert witnesses. During the 30 days prior to trial, the parties will normally file Motions asking the judge to rule prior to trial that certain evidence can or cannot come in at trial.
On the day of trial, the parties and their attorneys will get to the courthouse first thing in the morning. The judge will instruct the bailiff to bring the jury panel out. The attorneys will select a jury from the panel. After the jury is selected, the attorneys will make opening statements, where they summarize what they expect the evidence to be. The claimant’s attorney goes first followed by the defense/insurance company attorney.
Following opening statements, the claimant’s attorney will put on his or her case. This is because the claimant has the burden of proof. This will consist mostly of calling witnesses to testify about 1) how the car wreck happened and 2) the nature and extent of the claimant’s injuries. The claimant’s attorney will also introduce documents such as photographs of the wreck, medical bills, and lost wage documentation.
After the claimant’s attorney rests, the defense/insurance company attorney will put on his or her case. The defense/insurance company will call witnesses and introduce documents in an attempt to refute or minimize the injured person’s claim. Once the defense rests, the claimant’s attorney has the opportunity call additional witnesses to rebut new things brought up by the defendant.
After the claimant and the defense present all of their evidence, they will go over jury instructions with the judge. If there are objections to any jury instructions, the judge will rule on the objections. After this, the judge will read the jury instructions to the jury.
Once the jury hears the instructions, the parties will make closing arguments. The claimant will go first, since the claimant has the burden of proof. The claimant will argue why the at-fault party was negligent and how the plaintiff was seriously injured because of that negligence. The defense/insurance company attorney will try to highlight weak points or inconsistencies in the claimant’s case in an attempt to escape responsibility. The claimant’s attorney has the last chance to speak to the jury during rebuttal argument.
The judge will excuse the jury to the deliberation room once closing arguments are over. In the deliberation room, the jury will decide how much compensation the claimant is entitled to for the harms and losses suffered due to the defendant’s negligence. This monetary number is called the verdict. Once the jury reaches a verdict, it will notify the judge. The judge will call the jury back into the courtroom and read the verdict aloud.