We all know the phrase “Innocent until proven guilty”: Two parties come together and present their legal evidence to a judge and jury to reach a case verdict. While that may sound simple, there’s more to what meets the eye in car accident trials. In today’s blog, we discuss the various roles of the jury in a car accident trial, from determining fault to assessing damages.
Our San Diego car accident lawyers also review how the jury is chosen, what factors it considers during the trial, and how a case verdict is reached.
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A car accident trial is a legal proceeding determining who’s liable for a car accident and what damages the defendant owes the plaintiff. In most cases, the injured person (the plaintiff) brings the lawsuit against the other party (the defendant).
Both sides present evidence to prove liability and damages to reach a verdict during the trial. The jury will then decide if the defendant is liable and how much they should pay in damages.
In a car accident trial, both parties can explain their version of the events leading up to the accident and present mitigating or aggravating circumstances. Witnesses may be called to testify to provide additional details and evidence. The judge may also consider expert testimony from medical professionals, financial experts, and accident reconstructionists.
Car accident cases rarely go to trial. Most cases are resolved through out-of-court settlements. Settlement before trial occurs when the parties agree on compensation for damages or injuries resulting from the accident. However, when a car accident settlement cannot be reached between the parties involved, the case will likely proceed to litigation and trial.
Only an estimated 3% to 4% of all car accident cases end up in court. And in most of these cases, the insurance companies decide that going to trial is the most cost-effective way to resolve the dispute.
In a car accident trial, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff or the party filing the lawsuit. This means it’s the plaintiff’s responsibility to prove that the defendant was at fault for accident and the plaintiff’s injuries.
The plaintiff must prove both elements of negligence: duty and breach.
- The duty element requires that the defendant had a duty to act in a certain way, and
- The breach element requires that the defendant failed to act that way.
The plaintiff must also prove the extent of damages, such as medical expenses and lost wages. If the plaintiff fails to prove their case, they are not entitled to any damages. However, before a plaintiff can prove anything, a jury must be selected.
The jury for a car accident trial is selected in a process called “voir dire.” Voir dire is a Latin term that means “to speak the truth.”
The jury selection process starts with a panel of potential jurors summoned to jury duty by the court. Both parties in the case (the plaintiff and defendant) will ask potential jurors questions to determine their eligibility for the case. Both sides look for people who are impartial and unbiased regarding the case.
The lawyers representing the plaintiff and defendant can use peremptory challenges to remove potential jurors from the panel who they reasonably believe are not fit for the case. After both sides have made their challenges, the remaining jurors will observe the trial.
Note that the jury selection process is designed to protect both parties from unfairness and prejudice. The law prohibits jurors from serving on a case if they have a bias or prejudice towards either side or if they have financial interests in the case.
When the plaintiff presents their case, the jury pays close attention to the proceedings. They listen carefully to the testimony of witnesses and consider the evidence presented.
Using this information, the jury judges based on the facts presented in court. They’ll also assess the demeanor and credibility of the witnesses. Sometimes, the jury may even be asked to inspect physical evidence.
Ultimately, the jury must remain impartial throughout this process and not reach conclusions prematurely. They’re expected to keep an open mind and listen carefully to all the evidence before making judgments.
Similar to when the plaintiff presents evidence, the jury’s role is to listen and evaluate carefully while the defendant presents. They look for discrepancies or weaknesses in the defendant’s case, which they will consider when deliberating the verdict.
The defendant may call upon witnesses to testify during cross-examination by the plaintiff’s attorney.
The jury also considers the evidence presented on behalf of the defense, such as photographs, reports, or other documents. The defendant may also give a closing statement summarizing their case and asking the jury to rule in their favor.
Once the defendant has completed their presentation, and both closing arguments have been given, the jury is dismissed for a recess before deliberation begins.
During deliberations, the jury will parse all the presented evidence and discuss the facts of the case. For a car accident trial in California state court, 9 out of the 12 jurors must agree on liability and damages to reach a verdict. This is unlike a criminal case, where the jury verdict must be unanimous. The jury may ask questions of either party or the judge during their deliberations. These questions can help them clarify the facts of the case and reach a decision.
After considering all the evidence, the jury must decide by voting whether the plaintiff has proven their case and is entitled to damages for the accident. If 9 out of 12 jurors agree with the verdict, it becomes official, and the car accident trial is complete.
The jury determines fault and assesses damages by considering the evidence presented by the plaintiff and defendant. This process is known as “comparative fault,” Generally, states assign percentages of blame to each party involved.
Once it’s been determined that the plaintiff’s injuries resulted from the defendant’s actions, the jury must assess damages. When assessing damages, juries often consider factors such as:
- The severity of the injury
- Medical costs associated with the injury
- Physical and emotional pain endured by the victim
- Lost wages resulting from the injury
- Mental anguish or stress related to the injury
- Property damage caused by the accident
- Loss of quality of life due to the injury.
They’ll then award an appropriate amount based on this.
Recovering the damages, you’re owed starts with enlisting the appropriate help. Our experienced San Diego car accident attorneys can help.