What is it?
A jury trial is when a group of people over the age of 18 who live in the county where is case is heard decide the outcome of your lawsuit, Cases go to trial when the insurance company for the defendant does not accept your demand to settle the case.
At that stage, there is nothing left but to let a jury decide what should happen.
A New Jersey personal injury jury trial will have a judge, a jury of at least 6 people, and lawyers for the parties. During the trial, the jury will hear opening statements, testimony from the parties and witnesses, closing statements, and instructions from the judge.
At the end of the trial, the jury will sit together and made a decision on the case. After the jury reaches a decision, it fills out a verdict sheet that is read aloud in Court. That is how you will learn the result.
The New Jersey jurors who will decide your case are adults, citizens of the USA, live in the county where the case is being decided, and have not been convicted of an indictable offense.
The first step of the New Jersey jury trial is when a large panel of jurors comes into the courtroom. You might even recognize one or two of them if you live in the same county. The panel is completely random. The judge will give some instructions and then start asking questions of the jurors so you and the lawyer can understand a little about them. The lawyers will also get to ask questions which is usually done close to the judge and out of the ear shot of the other jurors.
Some jurors are not suited to the case or have a reason not to sit on your case. They will usually be excused by the Court. The lawyers will also get to excuse a certain amount of jurors without having to give any reason. The process of jury selection in New Jersey is different to most other states where the lawyers ask the questions instead of the judge.
During the case, the jury listens to testimony and looks at the evidence. They do not get to ask questions directly of the witnesses during testimony. After a witness has testified, a juror can usually send a written question to the judge and the court will decide whether or not to ask the witness the question.
The jurors take an oath and are expected to follow the law. The juror’s job is to decide the facts and apply them to the law which the judge gives them.
The judge’s job is to supervise the trial. The judge will instruct the jury on the law and decide legal disputes between the lawyers. The judge will also attempt to settle the case if the parties are open to settlement which often happens at the start of a case because the insurance company starts getting nervous.
Every judge is different. Some judges are hands off and let the parties fight it out. Other judges micromanage the trial and control a lot of the lawyers’ advocacy. Most judges are somewhere in between.
Before the trial starts, the judge can decide on a lot of the issues if the lawyers make pretrial motions on what they think might be controversial in the case. That can allow the trial to go more smoothly. It can also help settle the case if the judge allows the jury to hear (or not hear) an issue that’s very important to one side.
During the trial, the lawyers will make objections. It is the judge’s job to decide whether the objection is sustained or overruled.
The judge will also instruct the jury on what the law is.
Testimony & Preparing to Testify
As a plaintiff, you should be there for all the trial if possible. You will also be called to testify during the case. First, your lawyer will ask you questions while you are in the witness box. Your lawyer will have prepared you for this and the questions should be familiar.
Next, the lawyer for the defendant will ask you questions. These questions will be different and will usually not give you as much room to explain your answer. This is called cross examination. Be sure to read over your deposition transcript and your Answers to Interrogatories before trial so you will be ready for cross examination. Some defense lawyers are aggressive and will attack you on cross examination. Don’t be discouraged by an aggressive defense lawyer – just answer the questions and let the jury decide what they think of the lawyer hired by the other side.
Is Trial Expensive?
Going to trial should not change the fee arrangement you have with your lawyer. However, the cost of bringing experts to court and preparing exhibits for the jury gets expensive quickly.
That can add thousands of dollars to the case expenses.
But you need to look at it this way: the insurance company wasn’t offering a fair settlement anyway so now it is time to fight. Also, the only chance of a fair verdict is if these experts come to court and your lawyer invests in the exhibits you need to explain you story to the jury. You can be sure the insurance company will spend the money on whatever it needs to win at trial.
Just like TV, lawyers get out of their chairs and shout “objection!!” And just like TV, the judge makes rulings.
During the case, there will usually be documents such as photos shown to the jury. This kind of evidence is often allowed into the jury room at the end of the case if the court admits it.
Another kind of evidence is demonstrative evidence which is usually used to help the jury to understand the testimony of a witness. For example, an expert orthopedist might use an image from a medical textbook to explain what a spine looks like without an injury. That kind of evidence is seen by the jury trial but not allowed into the jury room at the end of the case.
Winning or Losing
When the jury is ready with its verdict, it notifies the court officer. Then, the jury comes back to the courtroom where the judge, the lawyers, and the parties are waiting. The judge will read the questions from the verdict sheet out loud and the jury foreperson reports how the jury voted on each question. The jury will usually decide who was at fault for the incident, whether the accident caused injuries to you, and what is fair and reasonable compensation for your injuries. If the jury decides that the defendant was not at fault, the case is over and will not go any further. Same for causation,
If there are six jurors, at least five of them must agree on every question.
If the verdict comes back in your favor, you do not automatically get paid. Your lawyer will submit an order of judgment to the judge a few day later that will add interest to the amount the jury awarded.
You can also expect the defense lawyer to file post-trial motions to reduce the jury’s verdict and to ask for a new trial. This will not surprise you because you have seen for the past few years how insurance companies behave when they want to protect their money.
But now you are in the driving seat. Your verdict is accumulating interest and the insurance company is panicking. You might have to wait a little longer for your money but the end is near.