In certain ways, the opening statement in a civil trial is an extension of the jury selection process. As we explained in the article describing jury selection, the attorneys can explore how jurors feel about certain issues in the case. This often results in an open-ended discussion about the issues in the case, so the people who are selected to serve on the jury will have a pretty good idea of what the case is about, and the general story of the case. However, opening statement is still critical to the trial process.
The opening statement is not evidence. Instead, each attorney is explaining to the jurors what the case is about, and how they intend to prove their case. This is different than actually "arguing" the case. Many definitions of opening statement make the "road map" analogy. It is an orientation of what is to come.
Even though opening statements are not evidence, or the chance to argue, attorneys are trying to tell the jury what the case is really about, which can set the frame work for how the jury processes all the information it will receive, and it is usually a lot of information. This is no small matter, especially in a complex case.
Another approach an attorney may take to opening statement is the role of a teacher. Again, many cases we handle involve complex issues of medical science, physics, and human factors. Opening statement is a good time to give the jurors some foundation on what they are going to hear from expert witnesses.
Some attorneys believe that most cases are won or lost after opening statement. The more accurate thinking is that opening statement goes a long way toward influencing how the jury will view what the case is all about, which is a bit different than deciding the case, up or down.
If you have an injury claim in Oregon or Washington, and want to know more about how the process works, call us at 503-325-8600. or order our free book. We can walk you through the whole process, step by step.