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You've Been Selected for Jury Duty! Congratulations...but What Exactly Do You Do as Juror in a Medical Malpractice Case Here in New York?

You get that dreaded notice for jury duty.

It compels you to come to court and disrupt your life for a while.

It fills you with anxiety wondering what you'll have to do in court.

Will you be picked?

Will you be passed over?

Will you have to sit on a criminal case?

Will you have to sit on an accident case?

Will there be lots of publicity?

Will there be news coverage?

Will you have to sleep in a motel or hotel when you deliberate?

How do you learn what you have to do as a juror?

Who is going to show you or teach you?

The answer is simpler than you think.

Here's what you need to know when you get that dreaded jury selection notice...

First, don't panic.

In all likelihood, you will not need to appear on the date that you are called for jury duty.

Instead, you will likely be asked to call a phone number to determine whether you are needed to come into court on that date.

On any given date, the jury clerk determines how many jurors are needed for the number of cases that are currently on trial in the courthouse.

Based upon the number of trials that are ongoing and the number of trials that are expected to come up, the jury clerk will assign a certain number of jurors to be called in each day.

If you are not needed on a specific day, the jury instructions will likely tell you to call again the following evening.

On the day you are told to come into court, expect to arrive at least 30 minutes before your scheduled arrival time.

Here's why...

The courthouse is often very busy first thing in the morning.

Litigants arrive first thing in the morning.

Attorneys going to court for conferences and trials also arrive first thing in the morning.

Spectators and other people with business in the courthouse also arrive first thing in the morning.

The lines can be long.

Everyone must go through security as if you are going through TSA security at the airport.

There are magnetometers.

There are x-ray machines.

While waiting on line, you will notice there are people who bypass and go on a separate line.

These are often court personnel and lawyers with special identification passes that allow them to bypass the regular security lines. 

You will then go into a large jury holding room with all your fellow prospective jurors.

You will either check in with the clerk or there will be roll call.

Some courts have you watch a short video when you first arrive.

Others give you a booklet to read to explain what you will go through.

Either way, it's now a game of hurry up and wait.

What do I mean?

I mean you now sit in a large room with many other people who were also called in for jury duty.

You sit and wait until you hear your name called.

You might sit around for hours.

You might sit around for a full day without being called.

You can read.

You can answer your emails.

You can be on your laptop.

You might be asked to come back the next day.

You might be told you can go home and your jury duty is finished after sitting around for just one day.

Here's where it gets interesting...

Your name is finally called.

You might think it works like the game show, The Price is Right.

When your name is called you start yelling and screaming while running down the aisle.

Well, that's not exactly how it happens in the courthouse.

It's more like fear, anxiety and dread being called amongst all these strangers in a big impersonal room.

You don't know what's about to happen.

You don't know where you are going to be taken.

You don't know what case you're going to be sitting on.

You don't know what questions the attorneys will ask you.

You don't know if your life will be put under the microscope.

You don't know even if you'll be hooked up to a lie detector. (Don't worry, you won't).

Let me allay your fears.

Here's what will happen...

The jury clerk will send you into one of the small jury selection rooms after your name is called.

You have been selected randomly among all those other potential jurors in the room to go into a room to speak with two or more attorneys who are involved in a particular case.

For the purposes of this article, it's a medical malpractice trial.

There are two attorneys.

One attorney represents the injured patient.

He's known as the plaintiff's attorney.

The second attorney represents the doctor who is being sued.

He's known as the defense attorney.

The jury clerk will bring in 25-30 people to sit in this room.

In many courthouses in the New York metropolitan area, these rooms are often windowless.

That's good and that's bad.

It's bad because no one gets to see what's happening outside.

It's good because it gets the jurors to focus only on what we are discussing in that room.

Each juror will be asked to fill out a questionnaire.

The questionnaire asks for basic information including the type of work you do and some of your hobbies. It will ask you whether you have ever served as a juror before and if so, what type of case, criminal or civil. It will ask if you've ever brought a lawsuit or been sued.

The attorneys will then randomly select six people to move up to the front of the room.

These first six people will be asked questions by the two attorneys.

All of the questions and all the answers will be given only by the people who are seated in the first six seats.

If you are not immediately selected for the first six seats, it is still critically important to pay attention to the questions being asked and the answers being given.

Here's why...

During the course of questioning, there will be instances where one or more of these potential jurors are not right for this particular malpractice case. In that instance, there will now be openings that need to be filled.

The attorneys will again randomly select people from the room to now fill those empty seats.

The attorney who represents the injured patient will speak to you first.

He will introduce himself and explain to you briefly what he will be doing during the course of jury selection.

His purpose is not to probe every part of your background.

His purpose is to identify whether you are the right juror for this case.

He will be asking you questions, some of which may make you feel uncomfortable.

He might ask you questions that you feel are overly personal.

His goal is not to embarrass you.

His goal is to learn whether you have any biases or prejudices that would make you unfit to sit in judgment on this case.

You should know that if there is something particularly sensitive you do not wish to discuss in a room full of strangers, you can ask the attorneys to discuss it outside in the hallway.

The attorneys will eagerly accommodate you.

The plaintiff's attorney wants to know who you are, where you are from, what your hobbies are and what type of work you do.

He wants to know if there is anything in your background that would prevent you from judging this case fairly.

He wants to know whether you are already leaning in favor of one side or the other based upon your own life experiences.

There are some inexperienced lawyers who ask the entire jury room the following question...

"Is there anyone here who is prejudiced?" 

Silence.

Crickets.

I will share a secret with you.

Nobody in a roomful of strangers ever wants to stand up and openly admit that they are prejudiced.

They don't want the scrutiny.

They don't want to be judged by strangers amongst them.

That question is not the best way to determine if someone is or isn't prejudiced.

There are better strategies to do that.

You will learn a little bit about what the case involves.

You will learn who the litigants are.

You will NOT hear testimony in the jury room.

You will not usually see a judge presiding over jury selection.

There will not be a court reporter in the jury room.

There will be no witnesses in the jury room.

Rarely will the injured patient or the doctor be present in the jury selection room.

There is no court officer in the jury selection room.

The questions you are asked are designed to help the attorneys immediately see whether if there is anything in your background that prevents you from judging this case fairly.

After the plaintiff's attorney is done talking, the defense attorney will then have an opportunity to talk to the jurors and ask questions.

After both attorneys have finished asking their questions, the attorneys will then step outside and talk amongst themselves.

At this point, you, the potential jurors, will be sitting in the jury selection room with other potential jurors just sitting and waiting.

The reason the attorneys go out of the room is to decide which of those first six jurors are acceptable to them.

You see, when you show up for jury duty and are sent into a room to talk to attorneys who are about to start a trial, it's almost as if you're applying for a job.

You tell the attorneys your qualifications to sit in judgment of a patient and a doctor.

The attorneys together decide if you're right for this job.

Sometimes the attorneys agree on which juror is good.

Many times they don't.

When they don't, they have options.

The attorneys can excuse a juror without giving any reason at all.

Legally, that's known as exercising peremptory challenges.

Typically, a patient's attorney will have three peremptory challenges.

All that really means is that if there are jurors the attorney doesn't like, he can simply say "I'm taking off jurors #1, 2 and 3."

Now, the defense attorney has three remaining jurors to look at and see which ones he likes or doesn't like.

If he doesn't like the remaining three, he can also say "I'm taking off jurors #4, 5 and 6."

Then, when the attorneys come back into the jury selection room, they will announce that the first six jurors have been excused and must return back to the main jury hall to wait to be called again for another case.

The attorneys will then randomly pick the next six jurors to take those empty seats.

The attorneys then begin the question-and-answer session all over again for those jurors who have now filled the empty seats.

This process continues until the attorneys have either run out of challenges or they agree that the six people seated are acceptable.

If the attorneys have run out of their peremptory challenges, there is still another way for them to remove a potential juror.

Legally, that's known as a challenge for cause.

That means they must give the trial judge a specific legal reason why one of these potential jurors is not right to sit in judgment on their case.

The judge hears brief oral arguments from both attorneys and then makes a snap decision about whether he agrees or disagrees with the attorney's request to remove that juror.

All of this goes on behind closed doors.

Actually, it all happens in the hallway while you, the potential juror is sitting with your fellow jurors inside the small jury selection room.

After the first six jurors have been selected, the attorneys still must select an additional two or three alternate jurors.

An alternate juror serves the same function as a regular juror.

The only difference is that if during trial one of the first six jurors is no longer able to finish their jury service, one of the alternate jurors will fill in and take his place.

Once the jury has been deemed acceptable by both attorneys, trial will start either that day or the following day.

You will be given specific instructions about when and where to appear so trial can begin.

You should know that a medical malpractice trial in New York is a civil trial.

It is a case being brought by the patient and her attorney seeking money as a form of compensation for all the harms and injuries she suffered because of her doctor's carelessness.

No one here is going to jail.

The doctor is not going to lose his license.

In the majority of medical malpractice cases that go to trial, there is often no publicity.

There are typically no reporters prowling the hallway seeking interviews with jurors, litigants or their attorneys.

There is typically no news coverage by the TV stations or radio stations.

You need not worry about having to stay in the courthouse each night when trial testimony is finished for the day.

You are sent home each day with instructions by the judge not to discuss this matter with anyone.

When the trial is finished, the judge will give you specific legal instructions in order to assist you when you deliberate.

If you do not finish jury deliberations that day, you will not need to spend the night in a hotel or motel.

That only applies in some criminal cases and is known as sequestering the jury.

This however is a civil case.

You can and will go home each night.

After the attorneys have given their closing remarks, the judge will then instruct you on the law in New York as it applies to this case.

After he is done giving you those legal instructions, he will then go through with you exactly what questions you must answer in order to reach your verdict.

The jury is given a set of questions known as jury interrogatories.

They are often simple, straightforward questions.

In a medical malpractice case, the first question typically focuses on whether the doctor was careless.

Legally, this is known as establishing liability.

Here's an example, “Was Dr. Jones negligent treating this patient?”

The definition of medical negligence will have already been defined by the judge during his legal instructions.

You might hear during the course of the trial that the doctor violated the basic standards of medical care.

You might hear that the doctor was medically negligent or careless.

Some of that language will reappear when the judge instructs you on what the law is in New York.

If you find that the doctor was negligent, you must then answer the next question.

I typically deals with whether the doctor's carelessness was a cause of the patient's injury.

Legally, that is known as causation.

One way this question is phrased is “Was the doctor's negligence a proximate cause of the patient's injury?”

In New York, we are required to show that not only was the doctor careless, but we must also show a link between that carelessness and the injury the patient suffered.

We'd need not show that the doctor's carelessness was the cause of the injury, but need only show that it was a cause of her injuries. There could be multiple causes. We need not eliminate every one of them.

If you find that the doctor was careless and his carelessness was a cause of the patient's injury, then you must begin answering questions about how much money to give the patient for each element of damages she is claiming in this case.

During closing argument, the attorneys will have discussed the different damages she is claiming.

She will likely claim that she experienced suffering and edured significant pain from the time of the wrongdoing up until the time of trial. She will likely also claim that she will have ongoing pain into the forseeable future.

You will decide, based on the medical testimony what to compensate her for her ongoing pain and suffering.

There might be other elements of damages that you will have to consider as well.

You should know that the judge give will not give you his opinion about what amount of money this patient should receive if you find she is entitled to money for her injuries.

Instead, it will be up to you, the jury collectively, to decide how much money this injured patient is to receive for each separate element of damages caused by this careless doctor.

The answers to your questions make up your jury verdict.

Hopefully I have allayed your fears by giving you some useful information to help you understand what will happen when you get that dreaded jury notice to appear for jury selection.

To learn more about how jury duty works in New York, I invite you watch the quick video below...


Gerry Oginski
NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer