What happens if a client’s personal injury case does not settle? What can a client expect to occur at trial? A trial date and length of trial (days or weeks) is agreed upon by the parties before the trial is scheduled and is typically dependent upon the complexity of the case and the number of witnesses each side intends to call to testify.
Most trials last more than a day and are tried before a jury (a jury is required if either side requests it). Both parties are expected to be present during the entire trial, while witnesses for either side are not permitted in the courtroom until they called to testify. The general public is permitted to watch, though spectators are generally comprised of friends, family and colleagues of the parties or their attorneys.
A trial begins with jury selection. The court ushers in a group of jurors, typically in the range of 35-55. The longer the trial is to last the greater the pool of jurors. The parties agree to the number of jurors and alternate jurors prior to the trial.
The typical number is eight with one or possibly two alternates (should an unforeseen event prevent one or two jurors from attending). Jury selection begins with the judge asking the jurors questions, then follows with the attorneys for each party asking specific follow-up questions. Jurors are then struck by the court or each side outside their presence, leaving the parties with 8 jurors (and one or two alternates).
To prevail in Arizona Superior Court, either party must obtain a positive verdict from at least 6 of 8 of the jurors. A unanimous verdict is not required in state court (federal court requires a unanimous verdict for either side to prevail).
After a jury is selected each side presents an opening statement beginning with the plaintiff (person that filed the lawsuit). After the defendant presents an opening statement, the plaintiff presents what is referred to as his or her case-in-chief. This means that the plaintiff presents all of his or her witnesses until the plaintiff is finished, at which time the plaintiff rests.
During the plaintiff’s case in chief, the plaintiff’s chosen witnesses are called to the stand. The order of the examination for each of the plaintiff’s witnesses is done as follows: (1) direct exam (performed by plaintiff’s attorney); (2) cross exam (performed by defendant’s attorney; (3) redirect exam (performed by plaintiff’s attorney).
After all of the plaintiff’s witnesses are examined, the plaintiff rests. The defendant then calls his or her witnesses which are performed in the same manner, though the roles of the plaintiff’s attorney and defendant’s attorney are reversed. After defendant’s last witness, defendant informs the court that defendant rests. The plaintiff then presents a closing argument followed by defendant’s closing argument.
After defendant’s closing argument, plaintiff is permitted another closing argument to address defendant’s closing argument. This is commonly referred to as a “rebuttal closing argument.” The court will instruct the jury on the law using jury instructions.
This is either done before the parties present their closing arguments or after the parties present their closing arguments, depending upon the judge’s preference (usually with preferences from the attorneys for the parties). The jury is then charged by the court with deliberating privately, choosing a foreperson, and rendering a decision.