Movies and television give many people here in Pennsylvania and elsewhere a certain idea about how things go once they step foot in the courtroom. The cinematic versions of civil litigation often fall short of the real process. Those heading into court for any civil matter may benefit from a basic understanding of how it works.
If the trial will have a jury, one will need to be chosen. Both attorneys can question potential jurors and eliminate a certain number of people they believe exhibit some bias toward one or the other parties or may not be objective during the case. A Pennsylvania judge also questions these individuals and can excuse those he or she feels should not be part of the panel.
Thereafter, each attorney makes an opening statement outlining the facts as he or she sees them, along with an interpretation of them. Both attorneys then present evidence and examine and cross-examine witnesses. The plaintiff goes first. Once both sides have presented their cases, they may make closing statements to give jurors their last interpretations of the facts, evidence and witness testimony.
The judge then gives the jurors instructions regarding the legal standards they must consider during their deliberations as they try to reach their verdict. Civil trials do not require the high burden of proof required in criminal trials. Instead of "beyond a reasonable doubt," most civil trials only require a "preponderance of the evidence," which is a lesser standard of proof.
In many cases, civil litigation ends here. However, if one party is not satisfied with the verdict, it may be possible to appeal it, but only for certain reasons. This outlines only the trial process, but there is much more to these cases that occurs prior to trial if the case even goes that far.