"Do you give the injured patient:
- $1 million dollars
- $5 million dollars
- $10 million dollars"
They don't just randomly pick one of those numbers. Instead, before they ever get to decide HOW MUCH money you are to receive as a form of compensation for the harms and losses you suffered, the jury MUST answer a series of questions that leads them directly to deciding on your damages.
Here's the scenario...
You trusted your doctor.
He told you that you needed this surgery.
When you awoke from surgery you were in the intensive care unit.
You didn't know why you had all these tubes and machines monitoring you.
Turns out there was a problem during surgery.
After a week on a regular floor, you're transferred to a rehabilitation hospital.
You spend the next two weeks learning how to walk and eat again.
Your recovery is slow and very painful.
When you return home, you require a visiting nurse and a home health aide.
The visiting nurse comes three times a week for two hours each day.
The home health aide is with you 12 hours a day.
She helps you with eating.
She helps you with getting dressed.
She helps you with bathing.
She helps you go outside for a walk.
When she's not there and your family is asleep, you feel helpless.
You haven't been at work in months now.
You can't exercise.
You can't go up or down stairs without assistance.
Your kids pity you.
You are depressed.
You can't help them the way you used to.
They used to look up to you.
Now you're just a pathetic lump who sits around the house all day, not being a productive member of society.
This is not how you were raised.
This is not how you want your kids and spouse to see you.
Your friends all go to work in the morning.
You sit by the window wondering why this happened to you.
You wonder what you did to piss of your God so bad that he made this happen to you.
Let's get back now to the question I raised in this article.
There's an old legal joke that says the way to get a $1 million dollar verdict is to have a $5 million dollar case and screw it up so the jury only gives you $1 million.
Let's get back to the real answer...
There are only three ways to justify a million dollar verdict in a medical malpractice case.
You must show that you are more likely right than wrong that your doctor or hospital staff violated the basic standards of good medical care.
You must show that the doctor's carelessness was a cause of your injury.
You must show that your injuries are significant and/or permanent.
By the way, you must show ALL 3 ways to justify a million dollar verdict.
Let me explain what I mean...
When your case gets to trial, you must establish liability.
That means you must show that you are more likely right than wrong that your doctor was careless and didn't do what he was supposed to do. The only way to show that to the jury is to bring in medical experts to explain to the jury why your doctor's actions were inappropriate and how the outcome would have been different had you received appropriate and timely medical treatment.
Then, at the end of the case, when the jury is asked to answer a series of questions, this question is usually the first one they must answer:
"WAS THE DEFENDANT NEGLIGENT?"
That question asks whether the doctor you sued was careless.
If the answer is 'no', your case is over and you get nothing.
If the answer is 'yes', the jury then must continue to the next question.
"WAS THE DEFENDANTS' NEGLIGENCE A PROXIMATE CAUSE OF THE PATIENT'S INJURY?"
Proximate cause is the link that connects the wrongdoing to your injury. There must be that link that bridges what the doctor did wrong and the injuries you suffered.
If the answer is 'no', your case is over and you still get nothing.
If the answer is 'yes', the jury then must continue to the next series of questions that focus on how much money you are to receive.
Legally, we say that they now consider your damages.
"HOW MUCH DO YOU GIVE THE INJURED PATIENT FOR HER PAST PAIN & SUFFERING?"
During your trial, you will have physicians come in to testify and explain to the jury how your injuries have affected you. They will explain what you went through from a medical standpoint. They will explain the medical treatment you will need into the future and how that will affect you as well.
Your treating doctors will have testified that your injuries are permanent and disabling.
That specific evidence will support your claim that you are permanently injured.
You will also testify how your injuries have affected your daily life.
You will explain to the jury those activities that you used to do before all this happened.
You will explain your daily struggles at doing even the most basic things like putting on your shoes and tying your shoelaces.
You will need to show the jury how every aspect of your life has been turned upside down, through no fault of your own.
Depending on which damages you're claiming, you need to show that you are more likely right than wrong that what you're claiming is true.
Remember, the defense disputes your claim.
During jury deliberations, the jury must evaluate each and every element of damages that you've claimed in your case.
No doubt you will claim pain and suffering, in the past and into the future.
Maybe you claimed lost earnings because you could no longer work.
Maybe you incurred medical bills that your health insurance did not pay for.
Maybe you lost business opportunities because of your ill health.
There are damages that are categorized as economic losses and those that are non-economic losses.
The damages that are economic are usually ones that can be calcuated, like your lost wages.
Maybe you were earning $100,000 a year.
Your doctors tell you that you'll never work again.
Statistics show that you're likely to live another 30 years.
We can calculate how much money you would likely have earned over that 30 year career.
You would have brought in an expert to talk about the value of money.
When we talk about non-economic damages, those are damages that cannot be easily calculated.
They are subjective.
They are fact-specific.
You tell the jury that you're in pain each day.
You have pain when you awaken each morning.
You have pain when you walk down the stairs.
You are irritable all day.
You are cranky.
You're just a miserable human being now.
Maybe you're 50 years old now.
Statistics may say that you have another 22 years, on average, to live.
Your doctors confirm that you will have to live with this pain for the rest of your life.
The jury has to collectively decide the value of your damages.
What do they compare it to?
To a basketball player earning $20 million a year?
To a valuable painting worth $10,000,000 that gets destroyed in a flood?
There's no precise way to say that your injuries are worth 'X' while someone who is younger and suffers the same problem is worth 'X+Y'.
Your injuries will affect you differently than someone else.
Age affect how you experience your injuries.
Your prior health affect how your injuries affect you.
Your pain threshold is different than someone else.
At the end of your trial, the judge does NOT give the jury a guideline on how much money you are to receive if they find your doctor was careless and his wrongdoing caused your injury. Instead, your attorney might suggest a number. He might suggest a range of numbers. He might suggest a number for each element of damages the jury must consider if they reach that point.
The jury is not obligated to give that particular number.
They can give less.
They can give more.
Hopefully this article has opened your eyes to what is needed to justify you getting a $1 million dollar verdict in a lawsuit here in New York.