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Trial journal: What happens during the trial?

When a personal injury lawsuit goes to trial

If the parties have not agreed to a settlement, then a personal injury lawsuit will go to trial. Depending on whether it’s a bench or jury trial, the judge or jury will examine the evidence and testimony of witnesses and decide how much money to award the plaintiff in monetary damages.

Selecting the jury

The first phase of a jury trial is jury selection – called “voir dire.” The attorneys representing both parties will question a group of potential jurors in order to determine whether they hold opinions or beliefs that would prevent them from being fair and impartial in the event that they’re selected to serve on the jury. After careful questioning and consideration by the lawyers, both sides will eliminate (or “strike”) the jurors that the attorneys believe cannot be fair and impartial. Of the remaining jurors, between six and 12, depending on the court, will be selected to serve as the jurors in the case.

“A judge and jury will examine the evidence and testimony and determine how much to award in monetary damages.”

Opening statements

Once the jury has been selected, the attorneys from each side will present their “opening” arguments. During opening, the lawyers provide the jury or judge with a road map of the evidence and testimony that they intend to introduce over the court of the trial and identify why they believe their side should win the case.

The Plaintiff will start first, explaining how the accident happened and why the defendant is responsible for their injuries. The defendant’s attorney will follow with the facts and evidence that they believe entitles their client (the defendant) to escape responsibility for the accident and the plaintiff’s injuries.

Testimony and cross-examination

After presenting their opening arguments, the Plaintiff begins their “case in chief.” This is where the plaintiff introduces its exhibits (documents, photographs, videos and other material evidence) and calls its fact and expert witnesses to testify before the jury or judge.

After being sworn in (i.e., give an oath to tell the truth), the witness is asked questions by the attorney who called them to testify. This is called “direct exam.” Once the attorney finishes questioning, the opposing attorney is entitled to “cross” examine the witness about the testimony that they provided during “direct.”

Closing arguments

Once each side has completed its case in chief and no longer has any exhibits or witnesses to present in the case, each side will present its “closing” arguments.

Unlike “opening” arguments, where the attorneys are limited to discussing the facts of the case, closing is where the attorneys summarize the evidence and testimony that supports their position and explain why their clients should win the trial.

Because the plaintiff has the burden or obligation to prove the elements of his or her claims (referred to as the “burden of proof”), the plaintiff is not only entitled to make closing arguments first, but is also provided a “rebuttal” to counter the arguments that the defendant made during his or her closing argument.

During closing, an experienced personal injury lawyer will utilize the evidence and testimony presented during trial to explain (1) why the jury or judge must rule in favor of the plaintiff and (2) how much compensation the defendant should be required to pay the plaintiff to make up for the injuries, medical expenses and financial loss that the plaintiff suffered as a result of the defendant’s negligent or wrongful conduct.

If you’ve been injured, you deserve to speak with a personal injury lawyer with trial experience.

Jury instruction and deliberation

After both sides have made their closing arguments, the judge will provide instructions to the jury. These instructions are a set of rules and instructions that the jury must apply and follow during deliberations – which is when the jury reviews the evidence and determines who wins the trial.

If the juror determines that the defendant was negligent and, as a result, is responsible for causing the plaintiff’s injuries, they then decide how much money to award the plaintiff as compensation for his or her injuries, medical expenses and other financial losses, like lost wages or income. Depending on the complexity of the case, the deliberation can last for hours or even weeks.

In most state courts, like Texas, only 9 of the 12 jurors are required to agree on the amount of damages to be awarded. In federal courts, however, the jury is required to be unanimous (meaning they all agree) on the amount of damages to award. In the event that nine of the 12 jurors can’t reach an agreement (or if they’re not unanimous in federal court), it’s referred to as a “hung jury.” When a hung jury occurs, the trial is concluded and the lawyers are required to start the trial over again before a new jury.


The jury’s final decision is called the “verdict.” The verdict is a legally binding decision that adjudicates (or decides) whether the defendant is liable for the plaintiff’s injuries and how much it must pay to the plaintiff in monetary damages.

About the Personal Injury Lawyers at Zehl & Associates

Unlike at many other law firms, all of our attorneys are trial lawyers who, in addition to being undefeated at trial, have recovered the largest verdicts and settlements in Texas and won over $1 Billion in damages for our clients over the past five years alone.

Contact our Winning Personal Injury Lawyers for a free, no commitment consultation at 1-888-603-3636 or by clicking here.