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How to Prepare for Injury Trial in Virginia

The following is an excerpt from an interview with an attorney in Virginia speaking about trials in personal injury cases.

What should a plaintiff know in order to prepare for a trial?

The most important thing a plaintiff needs to know is that their life is going to be an open book. If they go to trial, anything that they do can potentially come up in the trial or in the deposition. That could include their Facebook page or a conversation they had with co-workers. Sometimes the defense might have surveillance taken of the plaintiff to see if their injuries caused the sort of limitations claimed by a plaintiff. It is important to remember that they are under a microscope not only on the day of the trial, but during the entire time that the case is pending, and oftentimes even things that have happened before they were even injured may have some relevance to the case. That isn’t to say that any such information will ultimately be presented at trial, as we have evidence rules governing what evidence can be admitted at trial and presented to a judge or jury, but this is often the toughest adjustment for plaintiffs. The client has an attorney there to represent their interest, so they need to be completely open and honest with them. The best way for an attorney to present a case is if the client is as open and forthcoming as possible. If there is anything that could have been addressed earlier, or if they could have found a way to present it in a positive light or to at least deal with the potential weakness it poses for a case, that ought to be brought to the attention of the attorney as soon as possible. There is also the attorney –client privilege in place so that things that a client tells their attorney in the course of their representation that are said in confidence are privileged. That privilege is in place in order to encourage clients to be as open and forthcoming as possible with their attorneys.

What is the process like for personal injury trials?

Personal injury trials proceed similarly to other trials. The plaintiff will get a chance to put on their opening statement. Then the defense puts on their opening statement. The plaintiff calls witnesses and then the defense has the opportunity to put on their witnesses and their evidence. The trial ends with closing statements, which are arguments. The trial itself focuses on a few key issues, which usually boil down to liability, causation, and damages. However, a witness’s credibility or the reliability of a party’s evidence and testimony can also become a large focus in a trial.

In terms of liability, the plaintiff has the burden of proof. They have to prove by a preponderance of the evidence, which means more likely than not the person accused of being at fault was indeed at fault, that the defendant was responsible for what happened. Most of the time a personal injury case is based upon a theory of negligence, and a plaintiff must prove that the defendant either breached the duty that they owed to the plaintiff, or that they failed to do something they should have that a reasonable person would have done in the same circumstances, and that their actions or failure to act is what resulted in injuries to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff also has to show causation, which is the link between the liability and the damages. The plaintiff has the burden to show that the defendant’s negligent or wrongful act is what caused their injuries. One example of a common situation is if someone gets into an auto accident and they decide to pursue a claim against the other party, but then before that case either gets resolved or goes the trial, the person gets into another accident. That can cause difficulties when they are trying to prove causation. If they have a subsequent, intervening cause, that could also have caused the injury, that is a difficult issue. The jury, or the judge, will be looking for liability, whether or not the defendant is responsible for what happened; causation, whether what they did actually caused those injuries; and then the extent of the damages caused by the injuries, which can include past and future medical bills, loss of wages, and non-economic damages that might vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Most of the time, especially if a case involves very serious injuries, expert testimony is necessary to fully explain an injured party’s damages.

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