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Anatomy of a Lawsuit - Part Two

Jul 8, 2008
In this article, you will learn about both the Arbitration and Trial stages of a lawsuit.

Arbitration
In Pennsylvania, if the Plaintiff is seeking money damages of less than $50,000, the lawsuit proceeds to mandatory arbitration rather than directly to a trial in front of a judge or a jury. The procedure involved in an arbitration is similar to that of a trial. However, instead of a judge or jury deciding the case, the ruling is made by a panel of three local attorneys. If either party is dissatisfied with the arbitrators' ruling, an appeal can be filed which results in a brand new trial in front of a judge or jury.

Trial
Both appeals from arbitrations and cases seeking more than $50,000 result in trials. Depending on the preference of the parties, the trial can take place in front of a judge or jury. There are generally six phases of a jury trial: (1) Jury Selection; (2) Opening Statements; (3) Testimony and Evidence; (4) Closing Arguments; (5) Jury Charge; and (6) Verdict.

In a jury trial, the first phase of the trial begins with Jury Selection. A pool of jurors (usually about 50) is led into the courtroom and each juror has a number, from 1 to 50. Then, the attorneys for both parties ask the jurors questions to determine whether they know any of the parties, attorneys, or witnesses or whether they have had any experiences or have strong feelings on certain issues which would not allow them to be unbiased and impartial. Once the questioning is complete, each attorney can ask that certain jurors be stricken from the jury pool due to some disclosed bias or prejudice. After the judge rules on the "for cause" challenges, each party can also strike a set number of other jurors (usually around 4) who they think would likely favor the other side. These are called "peremptory strikes." Once the strikes are complete, the first 12 remaining jurors constitute the jury panel for the trial.

After Jury Selection, Opening Statements are presented to the jury. The Plaintiff's Opening Statement is intended to give the jurors a "roadmap" of the trial to describe to the jury what the Plaintiff intends to prove. Normally, the facts of the case are outlined and the witnesses and important evidence are discussed. Argument is not permitted in the Opening Statement. The Defendant can decide to give an Opening Statement or defer the statement until after Plaintiff presents its testimony and evidence.

After Opening Statements, the parties present their Testimony and Evidence. The Plaintiff goes first by calling witnesses and offering exhibits into evidence. Each witness may be cross-examined by the Defense. Next, the Defendant may call witnesses and introduce evidence to support its defenses. Thereafter, the Plaintiff may present witnesses or evidence in rebuttal to the Defendant's case.

Once all testimony is complete, the attorneys deliver Closing Arguments. During the Closing Arguments, the attorneys are able to argue why the facts and applicable law should lead to a verdict in their favor. Plaintiff goes first. After Plaintiff's Closing Argument, the Defendant presents its closing. Finally, after the Defendant's closing, Plaintiff's attorney usually presents a brief rebuttal argument.

After Closing Arguments, the judge must give the Jury Charge. In the charge, the judge explains to the jury all of the law applicable to the case so that the jury can reach a proper verdict. The Jury Verdict itself marks the conclusion of the trial.

In the case of a trial in front of a judge only (a bench trial), the procedure is the same except that there is no jury selection, jury charge or jury verdict. Usually, the judge will take additional time to consider the evidence and prepare a written decision rather than announce the decision immediately after trial.
About the Author
Tim Rayne is the author of numerous publications on Personal Injury Law and is a graduate of the Temple University Beasley School of Law's Master's in Trial Advocacy Program. Tim can be reached at http://www.macelree.com/traynelaw.
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