Seeking A Jury Trial On A Personal Injury Claim? How Can You Prepare Your Witnesses?
If you've suffered an injury due to another person's negligent or reckless behavior and are dissatisfied with the insurance payout offered (if any), you may have filed a civil claim against the responsible party in your local court. Although many personal injury cases settle before trial, in some situations, pursuing your judgment before a jury of your peers is the best way to recover the funds to which you're entitled. However, allowing a pool of diverse individuals to pass judgment on the testimony provided by your witnesses can sometimes be a risky prospect, especially if you're not sure all your witnesses can remain composed under pressure. Read on for some tips and tricks you (and your attorney) can use to ensure your witnesses provide the best possible support for your injury claim.
Consider your options
Your first step should be to draft a list of any individuals who can testify in support of your claim using their personal knowledge or experience. If a witness is able to testify only to what he or she was told by other people (even you), it's likely this testimony will be excluded as hearsay.
Once you have a list of individuals who can provide support to your legal claim, you'll want to determine which of these individuals has information to add that goes above and beyond what is available by other means – for example, the written police report or photos taken shortly after the accident.
The testimony of a friend who saw your injuries after arriving at the hospital may be less powerful than actual photos of the harm you encountered, and introducing witnesses who don't have much to add could actually harm your case if the defense attorney is an effective cross-examiner or comes upon a flaw in your argument.
Divide and conquer
Once you have your trimmed-down list of witnesses, you and your attorney will better be able to evaluate who needs the most preparation work as a witness. Professionals like the police officers who arrived to the scene or the doctors and nurses who treated you at the hospital are usually accustomed to testifying in personal injury and criminal cases, so they shouldn't need more than a short pre-trial interview so that they're aware of the questions your attorney plans to ask.
This allows you to focus your attention on the witnesses who may need some work – friends, family members, and others who have never testified before a jury before. You or your attorney will want to run through your questions several times to ensure that your witness doesn't begin rambling, offering irrelevant information, or becoming short or sarcastic with responses.
Your attorney may also want to perform a mock cross-examination to see how your witness handles the pressure of being questioned by opposing counsel, which can often be much more adversarial than the storytelling method usually followed during direct examination. This will allow your witness to feel better prepared for what is coming at trial, as well as let you and your attorney gauge his or her risk of having a meltdown on the stand (and plan accordingly).
Keep your case streamlined
Even if you have a complex personal injury case, presenting dozens of witnesses and hours of testimony can tax even the most dedicated jury. If you have certain witnesses who, even after preparation, may not "click" with the jury or who could even actively harm your claim, it's often best to leave them off your list and establish the salient points in another way.
You'll also want to review the list of witnesses the defense counsel will provide you with before trial. In some cases, you may be able to drop witnesses from your own list and instead have your attorney cross-examine the defense witnesses to get the same information, making your presentation of the case shorter (and the jury happier). For more information, contact a trial attorney at a law firm like Swartz & Swartz P.C.