Phase One of a Personal Injury Trial: The Liability Phase

Phase One of a Personal Injury Trial: The Liability Phase

If you or someone you know has been in an accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical expenses, loss of wages, and the pain and suffering you endured as a result. While about 95% of pending personal injury lawsuits end in a pre-trial settlement, you’ll need to be prepared if yours is one of the 5% of lawsuits that do go to trial. In Suffolk County, NY there are two separate phases in every personal injury trial: The Liability Phase, and the Damages Phase. Read below to learn more about phase one, the Liability Phase, so you can feel confident you know what to expect every step of the way.

What is the goal of the first phase?

The first phase of the trial deals solely with the liability of those involved in an accident. The goal is to determine how and why the accident happened, who is at fault, and at what percentage. Anything regarding pain, suffering, and injuries is not allowed to be discussed during this phase and is held off until phase two, the damages phase. This is so the jury is not swayed by emotion when making their final decision.

Jury selection and opening statements

Cases are assigned to a judge who will preside over the matter, but before the trial begins, a jury must be chosen. Six jurors and two alternate jurors are selected and are the ones collectively responsible for deciding the outcome of the case. The judge informs the jury what the law is and, based on what they learn throughout the course of the trial, the jury ultimately decides what they believe the facts to be.

To begin the trial, both the plaintiff’s attorney and the defendant’s attorney will make opening statements. These statements are essentially guide maps for the jury regarding what that attorneys intend to prove in court and what they believe the evidence will show.

What evidence is presented during a personal injury trial

There are two types of evidence which are presented during the first phase of a trial. The first is physical evidence which can include a police accident report, photographs of the accident scene and the vehicles in the event of a car accident, and photos demonstrating the vehicle damage and position of the vehicles in the crash. The other type of evidence is in the form of testimony. During the liability phase, you will often hear testimony from key people including the plaintiff, the defendant, witnesses, and potentially the investigating or reporting police officer.

The evidence that is not presented during this phase

It’s important to note that no evidence of any damages can be presented during this phase of the trial. If any injuries or pain and suffering are mentioned, there will likely be a mistrial and the process will need to start all over again on the liability phase of the trial. This is mainly due to the fact that sympathy can’t play a part in the jury’s determination of how and why the accident happened and experienced attorneys will help witnesses and clients navigate this.

Closing and deliberation

After all of the evidence is presented to the jury, each attorney makes a closing statement which is also known as a summation. During this statement they tell the jury what they believe the evidence has shown and argue their positions one final time. The judge then reads what the law is to the jury and the jury retires to begin deliberating.

One common myth about jury deliberation for personal injury lawsuits is that they simply sit in a room and make a single decision on who is at fault. In reality, the jury is provided with a questionnaire that asks a few simple, but crucial, questions. The first set of questions are about the defendant. These questions include “was the defendant negligent?” and “was the defendant’s negligence a substantial factor for causing the accident?”. The answers must be “yes” for both of these questions in order for the plaintiff to prevail in the case.

The next set of questions are the same two questions, but this time are asked about the plaintiff. Finally, the jury is asked to determine the percentage of fault for each party. The total must equal 100% and this number is incredibly important for cases that move on to the second phase of a trial.

The North Shore Injury Lawyer

If you’ve been the victim of an accident in Suffolk County, NY and are looking for a personal injury attorney who has your back, look no further than attorney Mark T. Freeley from The North Shore Injury Lawyer. With over 30 years of experience as an attorney handling personal injury cases in Suffolk County, Mark is one of the most trusted personal injury lawyers on Long Island. To get started, give Mark a call today at 631-495-9435!