What Does the Judge Do in a Personal Injury Case?
Answer Provided by Our Knowledgeable Personal Injury Attorneys
The judge is a public officer appointed to decide cases in a court of law. In a personal injury lawsuit, he or she examines the evidence provided by the opposing parties (the plaintiff and the defendant) to decide whether the defendant should be held liable for the harm and injuries alleged by the plaintiff. It is also his duty to determine the amount of compensation the defendant must pay to the plaintiff if the decision goes in favor of the latter.
Once a personal injury case goes to trial, which is the final and the most high-profile stage of a lawsuit, the judge is directly or indirectly involved in every aspect of litigation, which includes the following phases.
- Jury Selection Phase
During jury selection, the judge questions a pool of potential jurors to determine their suitability for the particular case. The questions may be general or specific about matters pertaining to the case, such as their ideological dispositions or life experiences. Based on the answers given by the interviewees, the judge may excuse those individuals he or she finds unsuitable to serve on the jury. At the same time, the plaintiff and defendant may also question the potential jurors through their respective personal injury attorneys and may exclude the individuals who they think may be unfavorable to them through the use of peremptory challenges.
- Opening Statement Phase
The opening statement is the phase when the judge gives the plaintiff and the defendant permission to make their first statements through their respective attorneys. The plaintiff’s attorney presents the facts about the injury and how the defendant was responsible for the injuries. The defendant’s attorney presents his own interpretation of the facts and lays the groundwork for rebutting the allegations made by the plaintiff.
- Witness testimony and examination
In this phase, the judge gives both the plaintiff and the defendant permission to present evidence and call witnesses. The plaintiff may produce physical evidence, such as documents, photographs and medical reports. If an individual named as a witness by either party is unwilling to appear in the court, the judge may issue a subpoena to make him or her appear in court. Once a witness is in the witness box, the judge allows the party that called the witness to question the witness, a process called ‘direct examination’. After that, the judge gives permission to the opposing party to question the witness, a process called cross-examination.
- Closing argument
In this phase, the judge give both parties permission to “sum up” their case, recapping the evidence to prove their point. This is the last chance they will get to address the jury, so they will try to impress the jurors as much as they can with their arguments and evidence.
- Jury Instruction
After the closing argument, the judge spells out the set of legal standards that the jury must abide by when making their decision. It is up to the judge to decide what legal standards should apply, but his or her decision is often based on the inputs and arguments from both the plaintiff and the defendant. The judge also spells out the key concepts, such the preponderance of evidence, and defines any specific injury claims the jury may take into consideration. He or she also discusses the different types of damages to be awarded to the plaintiff (compensatory and punitive).
- Jury Deliberation and Verdict
Once the judge has given his instructions, the jurors go to a separate room to discuss the case. This process is called “deliberation” and may last from a few hours to several weeks. Once the jury has reached a decision, the foreperson informs the judge and the judge announces the verdict. He or she also announces the type and amount of damages that the defendant must pay if the verdict is in favor of the plaintiff.
However, not all personal injury cases reach the trial phase. A majority of cases are settled beforehand. In many cases, the cases are resolved even without having to file a lawsuit; for instance, a mutually agreeable settlement between the involved parties can be reached through arbitration or mediation. In such cases, the judge has no role to play. In contrast, personal injury lawyers are involved in every phase of litigation, right from the beginning of a lawsuit till the end.