While most claims for personal injuries are settled before we have to actually file a lawsuit against the wrongdoer, a Virginia Personal Injury Trial lawyer has to be prepared, from the start, to file a suit for the client and take the matter to trial, asking a jury to decide what is fair for the client.� Injury lawsuits are somewhat like a TENNIS MATCH! There are two sides, and each one keeps batting something back and forth, whether it be a ball in the case of tennis, or a document of some sort in the case of a lawsuit. At some point in a lawsuit, the “volley” back and forth is face to face with words. Unlike a tennis match, however, in a lawsuit, a judge or jury watches the game and decides who wins.
Lawsuits break down into the following five steps:
Pleadings are the document filed by the person initiating the suit, known as the plaintiff, and the response of the party being sued, known as the defendant. The plaintiff’s pleading generally spells out what happened, what injury occurred, who is the responsible party, and what he is seeking in relief. The response of the defendant generally responds to the allegations of the plaintiff, asserting his own version of what happened, whether there was an injury, and why he is not responsible.
In the discovery phase, each side obtains information from the other that helps them understand the facts of the case. In this step, the parties begin to understand more clearly the strengths and weaknesses of their cases.
Pre-trial motions are where the attorneys for each side put forth legal issues that may clarify the dispute or how the trial will proceed. Often lawyers are requesting that certain information obtained during discovery be excluded from the trial. The judge rules on these motions. Many times, the outcome of these motions determines how and whether the case will move forward. I can’t count the number of times that the case has settled, simply because rulings on these motions substantially affect how the trial will proceed and who will likely win.
The trial itself is NOT like what you see in television shows. This is NOT Law and Order, Perry Mason or Judge Judy!!
Trials start with the selection of the jury members, through questioning by the lawyers. Once the jury is selected, the Plaintiff will make an opening statement to tell the jury what the case is about, and the Defendant will do the same. Imagine coming into a movie theater, without knowing what the movie is about. Confusing? Of course. In the opening statements, the lawyers will provide their version of what the trial will be about. The Plaintiff always has the burden of proof, and so she puts on her evidence and witnesses, first. Then, the defendant has her turn. The lawyers gets to ask the witness questions, the answers to which they hope will convince the jury of their position.
The judge, in a jury trial, is kind of like the tennis linesman. He has to rule on whether the game is being played properly or whether some “shot” that was hit by either side was out of bounds. When the evidence has been presented, both sides will make a closing argument to the jury, to explain their position, and to persuade the jury to find for their client. The jury then retires to deliberate, and in Virginia, to reach a unanimous verdict from the seven members.
In Virginia, the outcome of a civil jury trial is often the end of the dispute. While each party may want to appeal the decision, Virginia does NOT provide for an automatic right to appeal. Decisions in negligence cases are only appealed if the Supreme Court ELECTS to hear your appeal when you Petition for an Appeal. Customarily, the Supreme Court only elects to hear about 11% of the Petitions for Appeal, so for the other 89%, the jury’s decision is FINAL.
If you have been injured by someone else’s negligence, you will need to contact us long before you will need to file a lawsuit. If you feel that you have been injured, Call toll free 800-9-THE-LAW or (757) 627-8900 to schedule an initial FREE consultation. You may also contact us online at www.sandlerlaw.net or by email at GSandler@Sandlerlaw.net.