If A Personal Injury Case Goes To Trial, What Should The Plaintiff Expect?
If a case is definitely headed to trial, I will take the client to the courthouse before the trial actually begins so that they can get familiar with the lay of the land. This will allow them to know in advance where to park, where the bathrooms are, how long it takes to get through security, what time lunch will be, etc. I will also spend some time teaching them the dynamics of trial, such as what happens when an objection is made, and what it means if the judge calls for a sidebar, where we would speak privately with the judge (without the jury present).
The entire experience of trial will likely be brand new for the client, so it is helpful to get them familiar with it beforehand. Lawyers tend to have blinders on, because we do it day-in and day-out, but it is a huge deal for clients, and there is a tremendous amount of anxiety that goes through them. We give them a dry run to make sure that they’re not too threatened by the process.
When I played college football, my team had a game plan before every game. We would come together to discuss every detail, such as what we would in the case of a third-and-long. I use the skills that I learned from playing and coaching football in my practice of trial law. I will review every possible scenario with my client, so that nothing unexpected happens at trial. We have to be prepared for anything, so that we can smoothly address whatever arises and continue moving forward.
Court usually begins at nine o’clock in the morning. On the first day, we will pick a jury. I typically choose to have my client present for jury selection, the opening statement, and the direct examination. In some cases, I will choose not to have my client present. This is because jurors are constantly judging and evaluating the plaintiff, even when the plaintiff is unaware of it. If we’re doing a five-day trial and my client is there every single day sitting silently for eight hours a day, and if at the same time we are telling the jury that the plaintiff has excruciating lumbar pain, what will the jury think? The jury will think that the plaintiff is lying, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to sit quietly for eight hours in the courtroom, day after day.
This would be an unfair assumption, because deep down, the plaintiff may very well be in excruciating pain, and will go home after the trial to lay on a heating pad for the rest of the night. However, if the jurors don’t see that, then they will interpret the plaintiff’s quiet presence as evidence that the plaintiff is not injured. Similarly, a plaintiff might be experiencing tremendous trauma and emotional pain, yet appear to be “fine” in front of the jury. Just as a book can’t be judged by its cover, a plaintiff cannot be judged by the way they look in the courtroom, but jurors will judge on this basis anyway. In certain cases, I’ll explain to the jury that due to the injuries and associated pain, the plaintiff cannot be present for the trial.
It’s important for our clients to know that from the minute they park their car to the minute they leave, people will be judging and making assumptions about them. In the past, I have advised my clients not to drive their expensive car to the courthouse, and not to wear expensive clothes or jewelry. This is because I do not want the jurors to make judgements based on the plaintiff’s appearance. We want to put our best foot forward and avoid negative assumptions at all costs. It is our job to make sure that our clients are comfortable and know what to expect when they head into the courtroom, and we do everything necessary to avoid being blindsided.
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