New York Trials are structured differently in Manhattan and Bronx personal injury cases than they are in the remainder of the lower Hudson Valley and other boroughs of New York City. In a New York County construction accident, or a Bronx slip and fall case, for example, there are “full trials”, meaning that all issues are litigated before a jury in the same trial: issues as to the fault of the parties, as well as the injuries suffered by the plaintiff, the treatment performed by the doctors involved and the all damages issues involving the permanency of the injuries.
Conversely, in Queens County, for example, as well as the lower Hudson Valley jurisdictions such as Westchester County, Dutchess County, Rockland County, and Orange County, to use some examples, except in rare instances, trials are “bifurcated.” Bifurcated means split into two parts. So, as an example, in a Westchester County motor vehicle accident, the jury first hears testimony and considers evidence only of the negligence or fault of the parties involved in the car accident, and first makes a decision as to whether the defendant(s) and or the plaintiff are legally responsible for the accident. (For a description of how we prove the defendant’s negligence in a personal injury case, please see our November 13, 2007 blog entitled “Burden of Proof in New York Personal Injury Cases”). It is only if a jury finds the defendant(s) partially or wholly at fault for the accident in a bifurcated trial that a jury then decides the amount of damages to award the plaintiff in a bifurcated case.
Full trials and Bifurcated trials each have their advantages and disadvantages. The major advantage of a full trial is that if the liability or fault of the defendant is not particularly strong in a Bronx car accident case, for example, but the injuries are substantial, we as plaintiff’s attorney have the opportunity to introduce evidence of these substantial injuries immediately, so that the jury knows just how seriously our client has been injured. The disadvantage is that full trials are much more costly, since doctors are routinely receiving between $7,500 and $10,000 to testify at present, and the cost of this testimony (which might be avoided in a bifurcated trial) is a substantial cost to both the attorney and the client at the end of the case.
In a bifurcated case, the major advantage is that if the jury decides against the defendant, cases will frequently settle before the start of the second trial on damages, thus saving the significant cost of the doctor’s fees to testify. The major disadvantage is that in the first stage of the bifurcated trial, the jury will not hear any evidence of the injuries suffered by the client, which is a major disadvantage if the injuries are serious but the fault of the defendant for the accident is not that clear.