DC Personal Injury Trial Process

A DC personal injury case will follow a set pattern and sequence which a plaintiff should expect and be prepared for. Anyone looking to bring a personal injury claim in DC should consult with an experienced and local attorney who can explain and guide them through the trial process, and help them build a strong case.

Opening a Personal Injury Trial

A typical civil jury trial in the Superior Court is a series of stops and starts for any case that is filed in the Superior Court of District of Columbia and is not settled. Eventually, a trial date is set. The date is usually assigned by the courts with minimal information or input from the parties.

All trials are conducted in the same sequence of events. The plaintiff, the person who initiated the lawsuit, always goes first in the presentation of the evidence. The plaintiff is given the opportunity to provide an opening statement first, call any witnesses, and present testimony in their case in chief, which precedes the defense. This is done because the plaintiff bears the burden of proof. This means the plaintiff must do all things necessary to establish and prove his or her case. If a plaintiff is unable to establish his or her case, the defense does not have to do anything. The defense wins the case because it is the plaintiff’s burden to prove.

The process consists of jury selection in voir dire which is usually done by the attorneys in the court. Once the jury is seated, opening statements begin. The plaintiff presents his or her opening statement through counsel first. That is followed by a defense opening statement. Once opening statements are complete, the plaintiff then presents his or her case through witnesses and the introduction of evidence. Once the plaintiff’s case is complete, the defense presents any additional testimony it deems necessary to present affirmative defenses. If the defense presents an affirmative defense, it is the defendant’s burden to establish the facts necessary to verify that affirmative event.

The Defense’s Case

At the close of the plaintiff’s case, the defense moves the court for judgment. If the defense is successful, the case concludes at that moment. If the defense is not successful, the defense will present its case. Once all of the evidence is presented, the defense is again afforded an opportunity to make a motion for judgment. If that motion is granted, the case is complete. If it is not successful, the case progresses to closing statements.

The plaintiff still bears the burden of proof and presents his or her closing statement first followed by the defense. Usually a rebuttal is allowed and the plaintiff has a final word before the jury receives its jury instructions and retires to the jury room for deliberation.

The Jury Process

People who have not been involved in the trial process may not be familiar with jury instructions. A trial consists of facts and testimony. It consists of facts presented through witnesses and documents which are introduced into evidence. At the completion of the evidence, the parties request certain jury instructions be given by the court. The court has the final decision as to which jury instructions are provided. The jury instructions are the law of the case. The jury is required to listen to the testimony, review the witnesses’ evidence presented, and compare this information to the law as it is provided by court. It is the overall combination of factual review in conjunction with the law that the jury considers in its deliberations in reaching a verdict.

A jury should return a verdict either in favor of the plaintiff or the defendant in a civil personal injury case. When the jury returns a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, the jury is called upon to award a certain amount of compensation for the plaintiff. 

There are many parts involved in bringing a personal injury case to trial. When you meet with an attorney to take on your case, they will provide you specific information on what you should expect and the elements that come into play during a trial.