Argument: Crafting your Case
This section of the automobile accident case help center focuses on the internal dynamics within the courtroom. What follows below is a brief description of critical points within each trial as well as samples from cases.
The first chance that plaintiffs’ lawyers in car accident cases have to talk to a jury-after voir dire-is in their opening statement. Good opening statements will provide a roadmap of the case to the jury, outlining the evidence, witnesses, and important points they will hear. However, plaintiffs’ lawyers should not argue or use facts they will not later prove at trial in their opening statements. The party that has to carry the burden of proof gives the first opening statement and then the other party follows unless they are allowed to give their opening statement at the close of the first party’s case. The burden of proof that plaintiffs must carry in civil cases is a preponderance of the evidence and the burden of proof that the government must carry in criminal cases is beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant in both settings has no burden to carry. Below are two opening statement examples in car accident cases.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers in car accident trials present their cases through witnesses. Using strategic foresight and planning, they must question their witnesses to illustrate the plaintiff’s case in the best manner possible. While lawyers generally cannot lead witnesses during direct examinations (suggest an answer in the question itself), they can do a variety of other things such as the following:
- Ask direct and circumstantial questions of fact.
- Ask the witness to identify certain items like records or photographs.
- Ask the witness’s opinion (if the witness is an expert).
The lawyer for the defendant in car accident cases can object to the plaintiff’s direct examination at any time. There are many different kinds of objections but here are some of the most common:
- Hearsay: An out of court declarant testifying to the truth of a matter asserted in court.
- Relevance: The plaintiff’s lawyer’s question is not probative of the truth of any element of the case.
- Leading: The plaintiff’s lawyer suggested the answer within the question.
- Asked and answered: The plaintiff’s lawyer already asked a particular question.
- Narrative: The plaintiff’s lawyer cannot call upon the witness to provide a narrative summary of an occurrence. It must in question-answer format.
- Assumes facts not in evidence: The plaintiff’s lawyer’s question was predicated upon facts that were not proven or admitted at trial.
After the plaintiff’s lawyer in a car accident case has finished the direct examination, the defendant’s lawyer is entitled to cross-examine the witness. The goal of cross-examinations is to critique the credibility of the witness; however, they can only generally do so within the scope of the content of the direct examination. Also, due to the general hostile nature between the witness and lawyer in cross-examinations, leading is allowed but the plaintiff’s lawyer is still entitled to object on nearly all other grounds. The credibility of the witness is normally critiqued through impeachment and common forms of impeachment in car accident cases include the following
- Lack of capacity
- Bad character for truthfulness
What follows are two direct and cross-examinations taken from real car accident cases. They both involve expert witnesses. The first examination is of a doctor and the second examination is of a neurologist.
At the conclusion of trial, the plaintiff’s lawyer will be entitled to offer a closing statement. This statement can comment upon the evidence and draw inferences from that evidence; however, it cannot veer beyond the scope of the evidence offered or issues raised. Yet, they can mention the jury instructions that will be used and how those interplay with the evidence and issues at stake. After the plaintiff’s lawyer has finished his or her opening statement, the defendant’s lawyer can offer one as well and, in doing so, normally tries to paint the evidence as tending to prove something else or attacks the inferences drawn by plaintiff’s counsel. Then, because plaintiffs have the obligation to carry the burden of prove, they are allowed to give a rebuttal to the defendant’s closing statement. After that, the jury must deliberate the verdict of the car accident case. Below are two example closing arguments in automobile accident cases. The first involves a DUI case and the second seeks punitive damages.
After both parties have given their closing statements and their cases have concluded, the judge must give the jury instructions on reaching a verdict. In these instructions, the judge will identify and define all relevant issues, terms, and laws. Further, the jury is not entitled to use their own version of any of these items, especially laws. Lawyers from either side are typically allowed to offer jury instructions they would prefer but the final form is to be determined by the judge. Within the legal framework given by the judge, the jury must render a verdict. In doing so, it has the final say on the credibility of witnesses and all factual issues. They must base their decision on only the evidence offered, which does not include the opening and closing statements of attorneys. Below are sample jury instructions from car accident cases. The first two are model forms, the third defines the scope of employment, and the fourth involves subrogation.