Wednesday, February 20, 2019

What Happens in a Car Crash Jury Trial in Jefferson County, Kentucky

It is rare that a case goes to trial.  I sometimes hear about the “good old days” when every other week a lawyer was trying a case in the courthouse.  I’m not sure if that is an effective method given the amount of cases currently in Jefferson County, Kentucky, but in any case its not going to happen again for a variety of reasons.  The most relevant is probably mediation.  A lot of cases resolve at mediation or at the courthouse steps.  That is the discussion of another post.  But, by way of background, mediation, the unpredictability of juries, insurance companies avoiding risk, and plaintiffs wanting to know exactly how they will be compensated have all combined to result in less jury trials.

I’ve tried a case each month for the past three months.  When we have downtime and the jury isn’t present somebody inevitably asks how many trials have taken place this year.  My review is that the average division tries between four and eight civil cases a year.  There are thirteen divisions.

So what happens when your case goes to trial.

Depending on the division you will show up at either 10AM or in the afternoon.  The judge is going to have other cases on the docket, but will try to move them along to get the jury seated.  The first step is any pre-trial motions that haven’t already been decided.  This includes motions in limine.  That is basically one lawyer arguing that the other lawyer can’t argue something to the jury.  For example, the defense will inevitably file a motion in limine to prevent anyone from mentioning insurance.

Once the pre-trial motions are over the court will ask both parties if they are ready for trial.  Both parties will presumably say yes and then a jury will be brought up from the second floor.  The jury will be seated in the back of the courtroom and the judge will go over some preliminaries: what is this case about, can everyone understand English, is anyone excused, is anyone a convicted felon.  General stuff.

The judge will then allow the plaintiff lawyer to ask questions of the jury through a process called voir dire, or as a normal person would call it, jury selection.  Once the plaintiff lawyer is finished the defense lawyer will be given the opportunity to ask questions.   That will usually last less than two hours for both parties.

The judge will then dismiss the jury and ask the parties is they have a motion to strike any of the jurors for cause.  What is really being asked is did anyone tell you something in jury selection that shows they can’t be fair and impartial during this trial.  Rulings will be made based on what the potential jurors said.
My experience has been the judge will then randomly select a bunch of numbers and cull the total amount to around nineteen people.  Each party will then be given four strikes to get rid of jurors they don’t particularly like.  The parties will submit them for review and the clerk will take them out of the running upon the judges instruction.

Jurors will come back in the room.  Those chosen will move forward and take their seats in the jury box at the front of the courtroom.

You are likely at lunch time now.  Time for a break.

Upon return to the courtroom the judge will swear in the jurors by asking them to commit to hearing the case based on the facts and evidence.

Once the jury is sworn the judge will ask the plaintiff lawyer to make an opening.  The purpose of an opening is to lay out what you expect the evidence will show.  The purpose of an opening is not to have either lawyer argue their case.  Plaintiff finishes the opening and then the defense lawyer gets the same opportunity.  Both parties may object when the other party is making an opening.

The Plaintiff will then put on his witnesses.   This can take a few hours or a few months.  Direct examination of the witnesses means the plaintiff’s lawyer cannot “lead” the witness and needs to ask questions pursuant to the rules of evidence.  Once the witness is done being directed the defense will have the chance to cross examine the witness.  Plaintiff will then get to re-direct the witness based on the cross examination.   This will go on and on until the Plaintiff has called all of the witnesses they intend to call.

The plaintiff will then rest his or her case in the view of the jury.  The judge will ask the parties to approach and the defense will most likely move for a judgment on the evidence.  The defense will basically argue that the plaintiff hasn’t proved his case and no reasonable juror would hold in the favor of the plaintiff.

If this motion gets denied the defendant will have the opportunity to put on a case.  It will go the same way with the defense directing the witness, but this time around the Plaintiff will do the cross examination.

When the defendant is finished they will rest their case and most likely make another movement for a judgement on the evidence.

If the judge denies the motion than the jurors will be sent out of the courtroom so the judge and the lawyers can discuss the jury instructions.

The judge will be the ultimate say on the jury instructions and when they are ready the judge will call the jury back in and read them the instructions.  Once the instructions are finished the defense lawyer will make their closing argument.  When that is finished the plaintiff lawyer will make his or her closing argument.
The jury will then be taken by the deputy sheriff to the jury deliberation room in the back of the courthouse (on the same floor usually) and then the deputy sheriff will return to the courtroom to get the evidence to bring to the jury.

The jury will deliberate and send questions if they have them to the judge via the bailiff.  The last three cases I’ve tried the jury has asked about insurance.  Judge will instruct jury that insurance is not meant to take part in their deliberation.
When the jury is done deliberating they will inform the deputy sheriff.  Deputy sheriff will then tell the judge and all of the jurors will be brought into the jury box.  The foreperson will hand the verdict to the deputy sheriff who will hand it to the judge for review.  Once reviewed the judge will read the verdict.

The jurors will be thanked for their service and released from that trial.  The judge will then entertain any post verdict motions from the parties.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Who Should Pay For My Property Damage in Louisville After a Car Crash?

I'm working on property damage today.  If your lawyer tells you that he only represents you on the injury claim and not the property damage claim than your lawyer is being lazy.  I will say that I authorize the insurance companies to set up a viewing of the vehicle and communication with my clients on this aspect of the claim.  Generally speaking my clients are going to know more about he value of their vehicle, but I'm happy to assist when necessary.

Property damage works like this: 1) the at fault vehicle pays for your damage (in pre-lit or because a judge/jury tells them to) or 2) you have comprehensive and collision and your insurance company pays for the damage. 

#1 is usually the preference because most people don't want to pay their deductible and most people want the other persons insurance company to be on the hook.  The issue here is that liability here needs to be relatively clear cut for the at fault carrier to make a liability decision and cover the damage.  If liability is disputed then the at fault won't pay on the sooner side and a lawsuit may be necessary.  That won't "speed" up the process, but it will get the carriers attention.  A carrier subjects itself to bad faith by failing to properly investigate.  That is the topic of another post.

So lets say you are side swiped and the other driver says you caused the crash.  His insurance company isn't going to pay for your damages without being forced to by a just or jury. If that is the case you better hope you option #2 available to you.

The quickest way to get the damage covered is thorough your carrier if you have the right coverage.  They will set it up and move the damage along.  Your insurance, assuming they don't think you are at fault, will then pursue the other insurance company to reimburse them.

The next question you have is how do they pay me.  If your vehicle is totaled they owe you the market value of the vehicle at the time of the loss.  Contrary to what you would wish, this means what the vehicle is worth and NOT what you owe on it (insert GAP insurance).  If you owe more on the vehicle due to depreciation then you can be in a bad spot, but the law can't force someone to pay for more damage than what something is worth.  If the car is fixable they will pay for the damages at the repair facility.  That is pretty cut and dry, but make sure you get a repair facility that you like and trust.

Some other tips: if you can wait get both carriers to make you an offer on the vehicle and take the higher one AND do not be fooled into thinking you must bring the vehicle where the insurance adjuster tells you go.  You have the right to choose the auto repair facility of your liking.  They want you to use theirs because its quick and cheap.  You don't want quick and cheap.

All of the above info is general.  As any lawyer would tell you...there are exceptions to everything.  I'm happy to discuss at 502-779-9998 or 502-444-HURT or

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