Your Part In Trial



Your case usually begins with your testimony, both on direct and cross-examination. Your testimony is perhaps the most important part of the trial. No matter how skillful and prepared the lawyer is, if the jury doesn't like or doesn't believe the plaintiff, the result will not be favorable.


Direct examination involves your testimony in response to your lawyer's questions. The initial questions typically are simple and concern background information such as education, family, and employment. These simple questions give you a chance to relax on the witness stand in the role of plaintiff. They also provide the jury with information, which may help them to relate to you. Your lawyer wishes for the jury to like you so that it will want to compensate you generously for the losses and damages suffered in the accident.


After the initial background questions, the testimony might turn to the facts of the accident. Your lawyer attempts to elicit a favorable and believable recitation of these facts. Hopefully, this will fix a version of the accident in the jury's mind which will stay cemented in place all the way through to the conclusion of the jury's deliberations.


After testifying about the accident, your lawyer may ask you to discuss how you felt physically and emotionally at the accident scene and whether emergency room treatment was required. If the defendant at the scene made statements, this would be an appropriate place for them to come into evidence. Even a simple apology at the scene made by the defendant can influence the jury's view of liability for the accident.


The testimony then moves to the days and weeks following the accident. Eventually the jury will hear about the full course of medical treatment and, of course, how you are currently feeling. You may testify about the effect the accident has had on your life and on your family. Employment losses are also examined. Any other relevant aspect of your losses and damages are discussed before the conclusion of direct testimony.


Your lawyer may attempt during direct testimony to take the sting out of unfavorable evidence. If, for example, you have a preexisting medical condition which calls into question the causal relationship between the accident and the injury claim, your lawyer may gently ask you about this medical condition during direct. This gives you the opportunity to discuss the prior condition and perhaps explain the effect the accident had on you. This can defuse an otherwise troublesome aspect of the case. By confronting the problem directly, you avoid the situation where the jury first hears about the damaging information during the insurance defense lawyer's accusatory questioning. This preemptive strike takes some of the wind out of the other lawyer's sails.

After direct testimony concludes, the defense attorney cross-examines you. This attorney attempts to discredit you, if possible. He may try to show that your version of the accident is unreliable. He will also undoubtedly try to prove that your losses and damages are not as bad as you would like the jury to believe. This is where the deposition testimony is so important. If you testified differently at your deposition than at trial, the defense lawyer makes this clear to the jury. If possible, this lawyer also brings out additional deposition testimony that hurts your case. Your lawyer makes similar use of the defendant's deposition when he cross-examines the defendant.


One of the main purposes of cross-examination is to set up the closing argument. Sometimes the lawyer asks questions on cross which seem unimportant to the outcome of the case. The importance may be made clear only during the closing speech. For example, the defense lawyer in a grocery store slip and fall case may bring out during cross-examination that your shopping cart was empty at the time of the accident. During closing, the defense lawyer might argue from this that you should have seen the liquid you slipped on, since it was not blocked by any groceries in the cart. Rather than pressing the issue during cross examination to make its relevance clear then and there, saving the issue for closing allows this lawyer to avoid the risk that you will explain away the problem.