Making Your Way Through A Personal Injury Lawsuit, Part Three
By Andrew R. Bronsnick
The court has ruled on the admissibility of key issues of evidence and has resolved any motions to dismiss or pare down the lawsuit. You’re still not ready for trial. Here’s what happens next.
You can’t make opening arguments until you seat a jury. The jury selection process, known as “voir dire,” differs in minor respects from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but customarily operates as follows:
- A pool or group of prospective jurors is compiled from voter rolls or drivers license records
- Potential jurors are notified to appear at the court on specific dates
- Small groups of potential jurors are brought into the courtroom and individually subjected to questioning designed to determine their ability to render an impartial verdict based on the facts of the case. The judge, as well as attorneys for all parties, may ask such questions.
- The attorneys can challenge the seating of a particular juror in two different ways. An attorney may exercise a peremptory challenge, which requires no specific reason—there are usually a limited number of peremptory challenges. A lawyer may also make a challenge for cause—based on a reasonable belief that the juror will not be impartial. There is typically no limit to the number of challenges for cause.
In the American legal system, the judge makes determinations of law and the jury has responsibility for ascertaining the facts. However, the jury must also apply the facts, as determined, to the law. But the jury doesn’t know the law. Accordingly, the court will give instructions to the jury, telling them what legal conclusions they must make based on how they rule on the facts. The court will ask attorneys for both sides to submit proposed jury instructions, but the judge will ultimately decide what a jury hears.
Courts take different approaches regarding when they want proposed jury instructions. Many want to address those issues before trial so that they don’t have to suspend proceedings midway to iron out jury instructions. Other judges prefer to wait until they know a decision is going to the jury.