This is the next post in our series discussing issues that commonly arise in Fort Worth, Texas oil field accident cases. Our last article emphasized the importance of retaining a law firm with adequate financial resources and personnel to handle your case properly. Failing to do so can result in a situation in which your lawyer has to withdraw, recommends a hasty settlement, or mismanages your case to your detriment. In this article, we will discuss the possibility of having to attend a bifurcated trial in an oil field accident case. 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. 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, creating a bias in favor of the victim. This is particularly true in cases involving severe brain trauma, paralysis, disfigurement, burns, etc., which commonly occur following an oil field accident. Plaintiff’s counsel will generally argue against such a request on various grounds. For instance, there are times when information about the injuries sustained may be relevant to the establishment of liability. Suppose, for example, that a victim suffers severe and permanent brain damage after an oil field explosion. The plaintiff argues that the accident was caused by unsafe conditions and faulty equipment on the site. The defense argues that the plaintiff was injured because he was not wearing the required safety gear. To disprove this theory, it may be necessary to present evidence about the victim’s injuries during the liability phase of the trial. If not permitted to do so because the trial is bifurcated, this could hurt 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. This is true whether your case is in Fort Worth or other areas of Texas.