The right to a fair and open trial is fundamental to the American justice system. Whether it’s a trial before peers in a jury or a judge acting alone in a bench trial, the process is designed for establishing facts and determining responsibility for whatever issue is before the courts. That can be a difficult chore in matters as complex and sensitive as trials involving mesothelioma cases.
How Civil Trials Work
The United States has two separate court systems. One branch is criminal jurisdiction courts hearing cases involving crimes like murder, robbery, and assaults. All other claims of wrongdoing fall under civil court jurisdiction. That includes lawsuits for asbestos-related litigation where compensation is claimed from negligent companies who harmed an innocent individual.
There are two separate standards between criminal and civil evidence:
Criminal Trial Standards: In a criminal trial, the state charges an individual with a crime and then must prove the accused’s guilt beyond all reasonable doubt. That’s a high burden of proof, given that a prosecutor must convince all twelve jurors that the facts presented to establish the accused’s guilt.
Civil Trial Standards: Civil trials have a lower standard. Whether it’s a jury of citizens or a judge acting alone on a bench trial, the civil standard is based on a preponderance of evidence that it’s more likely than not a defendant wronged the plaintiff. If the balance of probabilities indicates the defendant acted improperly and harmed the plaintiff, then a guilty verdict is entered. Following that, compensation may be awarded to the plaintiff according to how the jurors or judge sees fit.
Mesothelioma cases almost never go to trial. Less than 5% of mesothelioma lawsuits see the inside of a courtroom and end with a verdict.
Mesothelioma litigation is one of the most complex and time-consuming legal undertakings in the United States civil court system. They’re also one of the riskiest issues to place before juries. That’s why the vast majority of mesothelioma lawsuits end in a negotiated settlement. Both the defendant and plaintiff agree on settling without taking the chance of a trial rejecting the claim or awarding enormous compensation.
The U.S. Civil Court Trial Process
All United States civil court lawsuits follow the same process regardless if they go to trial or not. Every experienced attorney who specializes in mesothelioma litigation carefully prepares their client’s case as if it were eventually being presented in court. However, these knowledgeable lawyers are always ready to settle the case before trial as long as they feel they get the best compromise possible for their client.
Almost all the work involved in litigating mesothelioma cases happens long before the trail starts. It begins with a mesothelioma patient retaining a law firm that specializes in asbestos law.
Case Evaluation and Pretrial
A dedicated attorney represents the client and evaluates the case. If the facts warrant a lawsuit, the client files a claim or petition before the civil court having jurisdiction over the matter. The client becomes the plaintiff and the alleged wrongdoer is names as the defendant.
Pretrial preparation includes serving the defendant with a claim copy, requiring them to respond to the allegations. The investigation continues with witness depositions (interviews) and uncovering evidence like medical records. Parties also make motions to support legal arguments and stipulate certain agreements. This phase is called discovery, and it can take upwards of a year or two to complete. Mesothelioma lawsuits tend to move faster than other civil suits due to the plaintiff’s health deteriorating.
Taking a Mesothelioma Lawsuit to Trial
American courts at the state and federal levels highly encourage mesothelioma lawsuit parties to independently settle their claim before entering a trial. Mechanisms such as attorney negotiation, mediation, arbitration and alternative dispute resolution are used to speed up the process and streamline the case before making it to a trail. Discovery’s main purpose is to discover all the facts, so there is little reason to try them before a judge or jury.
If a mesothelioma lawsuit is properly prepared and handled, there should be no surprises during a trial. In the rare occasions that mesothelioma suits are tried, every piece of evidence will have already been discovered, examined and tested for reliability.
However, jurors in the case won’t know that and they’ll follow along in this time-tested trial process:
- Jury Selection: Depending on the jurisdiction, American civil juries have between six and twelve members. They’re normal citizens randomly selected from a voters’ list and are qualified with questions before attorneys for the plaintiff and defendant approve them. Jurors remain with the lawsuit until instructed by the judge to deliberate and return a verdict based on the facts they heard during evidence presentation. Civil jurors decide on both responsibility and compensation if they see fit.
- Witnesses: All civil court trial evidence is entered by calling human witnesses to the stand and having them state their knowledge in the case. Every witness swears an oath to tell the truth. Failing to do so is considered perjury and bears harsh consequences. One of the key witnesses in civil trials is the plaintiff. In mesothelioma lawsuits, the plaintiff/patient tells their story of how they developed the disease and how it’s affected them. Other witnesses may have expertise like medical practitioners who diagnosed mesothelioma and can conclusively link it to asbestos exposure.
- Evidence: There are four evidence forms in civil trials. They include physical objects, demonstration methods, writings and records. All are interpreted through witness testimony. Collectively, they paint a picture before the court of all case facts so a reasonable conclusion can be made. All evidence must be ruled admissible by the judge before a jury sees, hears or experiences it. Admissibility is usually decided during the discovery phase and must meet preset evidence rules already established by the court system.
- Deliberation and Verdict: A mesothelioma trial may take several weeks to present all the witness evidence. Attorneys for the plaintiff and defendant then sum up their case before the jury. The judge gives the jurors closing instructions and they retire in private to deliberate. That can be a short time if the evidence appeared clear, or it can be lengthy if jurors found the case complicated. Jurors are asked to return a verdict on whether the defendant is liable. If so, jurors then enter the second deliberation to decide compensation for the plaintiff.
- Appeals and Compensation: All American trial courts have an appeal process. However, plaintiffs and defendants aren’t automatically entitled to appeals. They must petition the appellate court and show there was an error in law applied during the trial. Rarely are appeals allowed based on a question of fact put before a jury. If there is no appeal, a guilty defendant must pay the plaintiff within a time set by the court. If there is an appeal, the defendant must post an equivalent bond until the appeal concludes.
Retaining an Experienced Mesothelioma Attorney
The most important asset a mesothelioma plaintiff can have is an experienced attorney. Every mesothelioma patient who pursues a civil court claim must retain a law firm that specializes in asbestos law and mesothelioma litigation. These matters are too complex for regular personal injury representation. An experienced attorney who practices mesothelioma lawsuits will negotiate the highest possible compensation for their client. They’ll also give the plaintiff’s best representation should the case be tried.
If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, contact our Justice Support Team today. Our staff work with asbestos victims to help them understand their diagnosis and the most effective treatment options for their case. We can also put you in touch with the professionals who can help you seek justice.