What to Expect at a Pretrial Conference

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 What is a Pretrial Conference in a Personal Injury Case?

The purpose of pre-trial conferences in personal injury law cases is to have a meeting between the plaintiff’s counsel, the defendant’s counsel, and the judge. Typically, during a pretrial conference, a judge will ask where the parties are at regarding settlement and if there is any chance the case can be settled before the trial begins. If there is any possibility of settlement, the judge will typically ask for some details about the case and attempt to guide the parties towards a resolution.

Suppose it appears there is no real possibility of settlement. In that case, the judge will begin by asking the parties about the issues in the case and how many days the parties expect the trial to take. Judges also ask the parties about how many jurors they believe will be needed in the selection pool to seat a jury of 12. Some state and federal courts have juries of only six.

After that, the judge will want to see each party’s exhibit list. As it pertains to the exhibit list, the judge will want to know if any exhibits are admissible without any objections. A judge will want to know this before a trial starts. A judge will want to know each witness that the parties anticipate to call. If there will be any deposition testimony offered, the judge will want the parties to designate any objections that they have to the testimony. The judge will hear any objections to the testimony during a pretrial conference.

Typically, the plaintiff’s counsel will file a motion in limine. A motion in limine is a motion which attempts to get the court to pre-rule on objections to evidence so that any prejudicial or inflammatory evidence or questions will not be asked in front of the jury but will be ruled on ahead of time. They call it a motion in limine because this is done out of the hearing of the jury and prior to the start of the trial.

A brief example of a pretrial conference situation would be in a motor vehicle accident case where another driver injured a plaintiff. During the pretrial conference, the judge will want to meet with both plaintiff’s and defense counsel prior to the start of the case to address issues such as the potential for settlement, exhibits to be offered, witness testimony, including expert witnesses, and whether there are any pretrial motions which need to be discussed and ruled on before the case is argued before a jury.

The judge will want to know who the plaintiff’s expert witnesses will be and whether there are any objections to the qualifications of those experts. Some judges want rough drafts of jury instructions to be ready. Judges may want to see any photos that will be presented to the jury before the start of the trial.

What Are Specific Types of Issues Discussed During a Pretrial Conference?

Another purpose of pre-trial conferences in civil cases is for the judges and lawyers to get together and discuss the pre-trial conference procedure:

  • Simplify some of the legal issues involved in the trial
  • Eliminate any claims or defenses that would be considered frivolous
  • Identify documents to be used as evidence
  • Identify witnesses (such as bystanders or witnesses to an accident)
  • Obtain any admissions of guilt or liability
  • Create a timetable for the submission of motions and briefs
  • Discuss any possible rulings on motions already submitted
  • Determine if there is any possibility of a settlement

Judges also want to know about past lost wages, past medical expenses, future lost wages, future lost earning capacity, future medical procedures, and future medical expenses.

The judge will also discuss the pre-trial process of selecting a jury, whether the court will ask questions or whether the lawyers will be allowed to. Judges will also discuss the defendant’s insurance policy with the jurors.

In pretrial conferences in criminal cases, matters that do not inquire into the defendant’s guilt or innocence are discussed. Pretrial conferences in criminal cases may be conducted to promote fair and speedy trials. Federal and state courts use pretrial conferences in criminal cases to decide preliminary matters, like what evidence will be excluded from trial and what witnesses will be allowed to testify.

Generally, pretrial conference substance in criminal cases is the same as those in civil cases. At the conference, the judge may make motions, eliminate repetitive evidence, and set schedules.
Thus, one of the main aims of a pretrial conference is to settle matters without disputes to avoid wasting time on unnecessary proofs during the trial. In the same way, the discussion of a possible pretrial settlement is also a major factor. If the parties can settle before a trial begins, it will save the parties as well as the court much time and money.

What if I Have a Dispute During a Pretrial Conference?

The exact reason pretrial conferences happen is that judges can hear issues about witnesses and legal issues. The judge can rule on those or give guidance before trial. If you have a dispute during a pretrial conference that can’t be resolved, there’s a good chance your case will proceed to trial.

If preliminary issues arise after the pretrial conference, a party may request a special hearing with the court to address the issue. This hearing is different than a pretrial hearing and a pretrial conference. Alternatively, parties may address issues in court on the first day of trial without the presence of the jury.

All cases are guided by procedural rules that allow the parties to obtain evidence from each other. This process of turning over evidence is called discovery. The rules that apply to obtaining and sharing evidence are called discovery rules. In civil cases, either party has the right to obtain evidence from the other. In criminal cases, the defendant’s attorneys have the right to access the necessary information to prepare a defense. Discovery issues are commonly discussed during pretrial conferences.

Are Pretrial Conferences Mandatory?

Pretrial conferences are mandatory. All judges require the attorneys to be present. In many jurisdictions, the plaintiff and defendant have to be present, as well. If you or your attorney does not appear at the pretrial conference, there is a good chance that you will lose your trial setting.

There’s also the risk that the court will dismiss the case for your failure to appear at an important meeting. Pretrial conferences are an important part of the judicial process.

Do I Need a Lawyer During Pretrial Conferences And Hearings?

Pretrial conferences are an important part of the judicial process. They are set in advance by the judge, and appearance is mandatory.

At the pre-trial conference stage, both parties should be represented by their own lawyers. In fact, a personal injury lawyer should be secured well before pretrial conferences begin. A lawyer represents a party, and the other party usually can only communicate with them through their own lawyer. Thus, you should hire a lawyer if you need legal representation and assistance if you are involved in a personal injury claim.


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