After a Charlotte auto accident the victim will face many challenges from dealing with insurance companies, property damage, doctors, employers, family etc. Eventually, after the dust settles the question of “What is my case worth?” is going to be raised. This is a subject that we have brought up and examined in great detail. The simplest answer of value is also the oldest, your case is worth what 12 people say its worth. In other words, the true value of your case is set by an independent jury who will hear all the facts and weight the evidence to determine value.
Of course, most cases, the overwhelming majority of cases, do not go to the jury. However, the few that do influence the value of the cases that don’t. For example, if the average jury in a specific county awards $X.00 for the average rear end car accident case insurance companies are going to tie their offers to those numbers. Some counties are also more conservative then others thereby influencing what insurance companies offer.
That said, if you find yourself facing a jury trial in Mecklenburg County for a car accident here is what is going to take place:
Calendar call is when the judge goes through the docket to see what cases are ready for trial, which cases have settled and what motions need to be heard. Not many lawyers try cases anymore so I always tell my clients that even if we are near the bottom of the calendar we usually end up trying the case because the cases ahead of us settled. I tell my clients to be present during calendar call, especially if I know we are going to be number one on the list. The other factor to consider is how many judges they will have. Typically in a Superior Court setting there will be two sitting judges.
After each case is called the attorneys will rise and give the judge a general idea of the type of case and the number of days to try it. Also, if there are any motions that need to be heard first or there are any witness scheduling issues. After all the cases have been call the judge will read the final calendar with the order the cases will be tried.
Before every personal injury trial there will be motions heard before the judge. These motions, which can be filed by either side, attempt to limit what information can get to the jury. Some motions are standard with every case (collateral source, mentioning of automobile insurance) and others can be specific in your case. Sometimes the defense counsel and the plaintiff’s attorney can agree on the motions and they are heard by consent. However, on contentious issues the judge will hear the arguments of counsel and either render a decision or keep it open and rule on it at a later time.
This is one of the most important aspects of your car accident trial. There is no way to guarantee picking a jury which will give you everything you want but picking the wrong jury is a surefire way of ensuring a low judgment or defeat. Too many lawyers make the mistake of treating the jury with disrespect. Jurors are missing time from work and family obligations to sit and listen to other people’s problems. They are fulfilling their civic duty and their time should be valued. As such, the best advice I give younger Charlotte personal injury lawyers is to be prepared. Don’t waste the jury’s time asking them about their favorite color. If the case is about the defendant drinking when he caused the accident ask the jury about any preconceived ideas about DWI. If the case deals with a minor impact and low property damage ask the jury about any preconceived ideas about injuries and property damage.
Jury selection is the only time the attorney gets to speak directly with the jury until closing arguments. It is the only time in the trial that the jury can talk directly with the attorney. Jury selection is a give and take. Too many lawyers spend their time looking down at their notes reading the questions to the jury without listening. The Plaintiff has an active role to play during jury selection as well. I ask my clients to listen to the answers given by potential jurors. People know what kind of people they like and what kind of people they don’t get along with. Ideally, the Plaintiff is able to pick out the people they don’t “like” and have only like-minded people on the jury.
The Plaintiff has the first crack at the jury. These means that the first lawyer the jury will hear from to explain what they are doing there is the plaintiff’s lawyer. Typically I will give the jury a brief description of the car accident. I will talk about the parties in the accident as well lawyers to see if anyone on the jury knows any of them. Typically if there is familiarity with one of the lawyers or parties that juror will be excused for cause.
As a personal injury attorney I have tried numerous cases in counties all across North Carolina. I always try to be candid with jury members and limit my questions only to those that are the most important. I explain to the jury that a trial is a fact finding mission. That if they are asked to serve on the jury their job is to listen to the evidence, use their common sense and render a judgment based on the law that will be provided by the judge.
Most people don’t like speaking in front of other people. They don’t want to feel embarrassed or “say the wrong thing.” The job of the attorney is to make the jurors feel comfortable speaking their mind and giving their opinion. In the end, the civil justice system is based on decisions from impartial jurors. If a jury is impartial it is not fair to either the plaintiff or defendant.
In the next installment we will discuss opening statements and presenting the evidence. To discuss your personal injury claim please contact us. You will speak directly with a Charlotte car accident lawyer. There is no fee for the initial consultation.