It’s not The Good Wife. You know, that TV show where a client comes in at the beginning of the show, explains their problem and then before the show ends they are in a trial. And the trials themselves are not like what they portray on TV either. You see the actors in the middle of trial and then, all of a sudden, during the proceedings, they go out and take depositions and do other investigation so they can present the information or evidence to the jury. Nope, it’s not like that; nor is it like that old time show Perry Mason, in which almost every time, the bad guy jumps up at the end of questioning and says “I did it” because of Perry’s masterful questioning or the bumbling of Mr. Hamilton Berger, the opposing attorney.
Civil cases are much more complicated and everything, we mean everything, takes longer than they portray on TV. The case starts with the filing of a Complaint by the aggrieved party; that person known as the Plaintiff. That document is filed with the court and then served upon whoever the defendant might be by a process server. Sometimes that’s not an easy task because people move, hide their whereabouts, or simply disappear. Once service is perfected the defendant must file an Answer. The Answer typically denies the allegations of the Complaint and further asserts any affirmative defenses that the Defendant might have. Assertions like: it was the Plaintiff’s fault, or some third party was responsible.
The case then goes through a phase called “discovery” where written questions (“interrogatories”), requests for production of documents, and other material evidence is exchanged. Next, depositions are taken of the various witnesses, parties, or experts. A deposition is a series of verbal questions under oath that are asked to all the witnesses. What you say during your deposition will be used at trial. It will be prepared as a written transcript. By the way, this process can take many months or years to accomplish depending upon the complexity of the case.
In South Florida cases are required to be mediated before they can be tried. During mediation, both sides use a neutral party to try to achieve a settlement. If successful, the case ends; if not, it proceeds to trial.
The matter is scheduled for trial, most of the time by the Plaintiff’s attorney, when they feel it is ready. It can then take anywhere from 3 to 6 months to get a trial setting. During that timeframe the attorneys are generally required to share with each other the evidence they intend to present at trial, including the names of all witnesses and exhibits. Sometimes, this leads to more depositions and gathering of additional information. Typically, the addition of new evidence or witnesses also results in new motions filed between the attorneys as they try to get before the court to iron out what evidence will or will not be presented to a jury. This can cause delays as the attorneys must await the availability of the judge to hear their motions.
Once the trial date arrives, the parties show up at the courthouse and go through the process of selecting a jury. In Florida civil cases six jurors are selected. During the selection process, the judge will ask whether they have any knowledge about the case or if they have had similar life experiences that would deem them biased and unable to fairly try the matter. The attorneys from both sides then ask each potential juror questions and choose accordingly. Some jurors will be dismissed for cause (a legal reason why they are not qualified) or by peremptory challenges (without cause). When both parties agree on the jurors, they are sworn in to try the case by a fair and just verdict.
A trial begins with the Opening Statement. Then, evidence is presented through the testimony of live witnesses, videotape-recorded information and expert witnesses. Each witness that takes the stand is subject to cross-examination, in which the opposing counsel attempts to discredit the witness’s testimony, knowledge, or credibility.
After the Plaintiff’s side has finished presenting its witnesses, the defense has an opportunity to do the same. Upon completion of each side’s presentation of witnesses, both sides generally have additional motions that the court must hear and, depending upon the ruling, they then must proceed to give Closing Arguments in the case.
After receiving all the testimony, Opening Statements, Closing Arguments, and jury instructions; the jury goes out into a private room and deliberates. It can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a few days for the jury to reach a verdict. Sound complicated? You bet! And it doesn’t happen in an hour.
Cutler Rader, P.L. is located at 1166 W. Newport Center Drive, Suite #308 Deerfield Beach, FL 33442. If you or a loved on has been injured in an accident that is no fault of your own, call (954) 913-2273 for a free consultation. You can also visit our website at www.CutlerRader.com.