This is the next post in our series discussing issues that commonly arise in Fort Worth, Texas personal injury cases involving serious brain injuries. Our last article explained why settlement negotiations and litigation in head injury cases can be lengthy. It is not uncommon for medical and other experts to require several months or more than a year to provide their conclusions about the victim’s long-term medical prognosis. Given the medical and financial implications of such injuries on the victim and their family, the damages can be significant. To preserve your right to recover the damages it is important to understand the full impact of the injury before engaging in settlement negotiations. In this article, we will discuss the possibility of having to attend a bifurcated trial. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in an accident, then it is important that you call a personal injury lawyer immediately.
Defense attorneys commonly request that personal injury trials, especially those involving serious injuries to the victims, be bifurcated. This is particularly true in cases involving severe brain trauma. In a normal trial, evidence about liability and damages is presented in the same proceeding. The jurors will then deliberate and issue a verdict regarding both fault and compensation. If a trial is bifurcated, however, jurors will hear the evidence in two separate phases. The first phase will relate only to the liability of the defendant, without reference to the plaintiff’s injuries or damages. This means that the jury will not be given any information about the types of injuries suffered, how severe or the impact of the injuries on the victim and their family. Only if the jury determines that the defendant is responsible in the first phase, will the case proceed to the second phase, which will determine the victim’s damages.
Requests for bifurcated trials are based on the theory that the jury may be overly sympathetic to a victim whose injuries are severe and, therefore, be unable to issue a fair decision regarding the defendant’s liability. Under this theory, they argue that sharing evidence about the victim’s brain damage, for example, would cause jurors to be unduly biased against the defendant. There are times, however, when information about the injuries sustained may be relevant to the establishment of liability. Suppose, for instance, that a victim suffers severe and permanent brain damage after being hit in the head by falling debris at a construction site. The plaintiff argues that the accident was caused by the property owner’s failure to maintain safety equipment for the employees. The defense argues that the plaintiff was injured because he was not wearing an appropriate safety helmet. To dispute this, the plaintiff’s attorney may need to reveal facts about the victim’s injuries proving they were consistent with someone wearing a helmet. In a bifurcated trial setting, the jury would not be permitted to hear evidence about the injuries during the first phase, which may be harmful to the plaintiff’s case.
It is important that you retain a personal injury attorney who is experienced in litigation and understands how to challenge bifurcation requests. When selecting counsel, we suggest that you retain a firm that employs multiple lawyers in addition to its own investigator. We also suggest that you retain a firm in which the attorneys are Board Certified in Personal Injury Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.