• Andrew Littlejohn Johnson

How Does Trial Work in South Carolina

In most South Carolina personal injury cases, the victim and the at-fault-party’s insurance company participate in negotiations while the victim completes treatment. Sometimes, the claim is settled in at the end of this claims process. However, sometimes the parties do not agree on the value of the case.


In this instance, the victim normally files a lawsuit. This begins the litigation process. Upon the completion of discovery and mediation—if the parties continue to disagree on the case’s value—the case goes to trial. Experienced trial attorney Andrew Littlejohn Johnson explains the South Carolina civil trial process below.



Pre-Trial


Roster Meeting: The court holds a hearing with a “roster” of cases in the county; usually, the oldest case is at the top of the roster, and the most recently-filed case is at the bottom. In most South Carolina civil courts, a case shows up on the roster 12 months after filing. At the roster meeting, the judge determines which cases are ready for trial and how many days each case will take to try. When the judge sets your trial date, it is almost certainly to begin on that date, which is typically the same week as the roster meeting.


Prior to the roster meeting, assurances are made that all evidence is ready for trial and that all witnesses are available to testify on the specified trial days. Additionally, trial preparation should be concluded, from marking exhibits, to drafting openings and closings, to legal arguments expected to arise, to motions, etcetera.


Pre-Trial Motions: On the date of trial—normally—the judge takes up any motions from the parties. These motions typically include requests that evidence not be admitted (whether physical or testimonial) as well as any relevant legal motions related to causes of action.



Trial


Trial is not as exciting as seen on TV; however, there are exciting moments. Most people are surprised by how much the judge talks in a real trial. The reason for the judge’s vocality is that s/he is the law. S/he must explain to the jury that (1) jurors determine only the facts and (2) the judge is the only person whose explanation of the law matters.


Trial officially begins when the jury receives instructions and the plaintiff’s attorney gives their opening. Then, the defendant gives his/her opening, and—sometimes—the plaintiff provides a rebuttal. The opening is not the time for arguments; it is the time for each party to inform the jury about the case and what evidence is expected to be introduced.


During trial, the plaintiff introduces testimony and other evidence. Upon completion of the plaintiff’s case, he/she “rests.” At this stage, the defendant typically moves for a directed verdict, which is essentially saying the plaintiff hasn’t produced enough evidence for his/her claims. Once the judge denies this motion, the defendant introduces his/her evidence and then rests their case.


The judge removes the jury from the courtroom, and both parties renew any motions they wish to be heard. After ruling on the motions, the plaintiff and defendant give their closing arguments to jurors. Another round of motions is heard outside the presence of the jury. The judge, plaintiff, and defendant then confer on the proper jury charges to provide to the jury. At this point, the jury is brought back in, the judge reads the jury the charges, provides them any hard evidence that was submitted at trial, and retires the jurors to deliberate.


Once the jury returns with their verdict, the foreperson of the jury gives the verdict to the judge, who reads it out loud. The jury is then dismissed, and the parties argue any new motions they may have. That’s the end of the trial, at which point the parties may determine whether to appeal certain aspects, including the entirety of the verdict.


If you are unrepresented and have questions regarding trial or a personal injury matter in which you are a victim, feel free to reach out to us. We’re here to help.