A Guide for Witnesses in Civil Cases


A civil case involves a legal dispute between two or more parties. A judge or jury examines the evidence to decide whether the defendant should be held legally responsible for the damages alleged by the plaintiff. A trial is now the plaintiff’s opportunity to argue his case, in the hope of obtaining a judgment against the defendant. A trial also represents the defendant’s chance to refute the plaintiff’s case as well as to offer his or her own evidence related to the dispute in question.


Once both sides have presented their arguments, the judge or jury considers whether the defendant is liable for the plaintiff’s claimed damages and if so, to what extent. A civil trial may not necessarily focus only on the plaintiff’s allegations and defendant’s liability – this depends on the type of case being presented.


A Witness’ Roles

At the heart of a civil trial is what is often referred to as the ‘case-in-chief’. This is the stage at which each side presents its key evidence and arguments to the jury.


The plaintiff will methodically set forth its evidence in an attempt to convince the jury that the defendant is responsible for the plaintiff’s damages or that the judgment for the plaintiff is warranted under the circumstances. It is also at this point that the plaintiff may call witnesses and experts to testify, in order to strengthen the plaintiff’s case.


Physical evidence such as documents, photographs, and medical reports may also be introduced at this stage. Especially in more complex civil lawsuits such as defective product claims, a plaintiff’s utilization of expert testimony as well as documentary evidence will be crucial in proving that the defendant is legally liable for any damages.


Witness Testimony Process

Whether the witness is called by the plaintiff or the defendant, the witness testimony process adheres to these:


  • The witness is called to the stand and is “sworn in”, taking an oath to tell nothing but the truth.

  • The party who summoned the witness to the stand questions the witness through ‘direct’ examination, eliciting information through question-and-answer, strengthening the party’s position in the dispute.

  • Following direct examination, the opposing party has the opportunity to question the witness through “cross-examination”, attempting to poke holes in the witness’ story, attack their credibility, or discredit the witness and his testimony.

  • After the cross-examination is done, the party that originally called the witness has a second opportunity to question the witness through “re-direct examination”, to attempt to remedy any damaging effects of cross-examination.


If you have any more questions about a witness’ roles and responsibilities, call us at 1.855.905.9222.