The attorneys at Casey & Devoti recently published a Step-By-Step Guide to Making a Personal Injury Claim. This is the ninth of ten posts in the series, which will highlight the various steps throughout the personal injury claim process, we hope you find the level of detail informative. If you would like a copy of the complete step-by-step guide, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Step #9 – Judgment
Cases that proceed through trial always end in the same way – a “judgment”. The judgment is the entry made by the trial judge bringing the case to an end. The judgment states which party won the dispute, which party lost and who owes what amount to the other.
In a jury trial, the judgment is always preceded by a “verdict”. The verdict is the result of the jury’s deliberation. In Missouri, the verdict is made on a form provided to the jury by the trial court. The “verdict form” must be signed by all jurors who agree with the verdict. On the form, the jurors indicate their finding as to who won, who lost and – if the verdict is in favor of the plaintiff – the value of the harms and losses which she suffered because of the defendant’s choices.
Juries in civil cases tried in Missouri consist of 12 jurors and, often, an alternate or two. However, only 12 jurors deliberate about the case; the alternate jurors are released from their service prior to jury deliberation. Alternate jurors deliberate as part of the jury only when one of the jurors is unable to complete his service. Nine jurors must agree for a jury to come to a verdict in a civil case, including those involving personal injury. Any juror who agrees with the jury’s verdict signs the verdict form.
Cases tried in federal court are slightly different. Federal juries must consist of at least six people. Again, an alternate juror or two hears the evidence. However, in a federal case, all jurors deliberate, including the alternate jurors. And, all jurors must agree for a jury to come to a verdict in a civil case; the verdict must be unanimous.
In fact, the verdict form is one of several “instructions” provided the jury by the trial court for its consideration during deliberation. These instructions are put together by the trial judge with the assistance of the parties’ counsel. Usually, plaintiff’s counsel takes the lead in drafting the jury instructions. Once prepared, the instructions are shared with defense counsel and the judge. Both Missouri and federal law provide the defendant the opportunity to challenge the instructions and offer its own alternatives. The trial court ultimately decides which instructions are submitted to the jury to guide its deliberations.
Some cases are not tried to a jury. In those cases, there is no verdict. Rather, there is only the judgment. Again, the judgment is made by the trial judge.
Judgments entered in cases tried to a judge, also known as “bench trials”, are typically more detailed than those following jury trial. In these judgments, the trial judge often includes citations to the statutes and cases that guide his decision and the facts that he found persuasive in coming to his conclusion. In these judgments, the judge is providing detailed explanation as why he found in favor of one party versus the other.
In most cases, the judgment ends the trial court’s involvement in the case. In fact, in Missouri, the judgment becomes “final” 30 days after it is entered by the trial court.
Once final, the judgment may be appealed by any party. Also, once final, the plaintiff may take actions to collect the judgment if the judgment is in her favor.