Your second reaction would be to think “It’s about time!”
Your third reaction might be “I knew the jury would believe me!”
Your next reaction might be “I was right all along!”
Getting a jury to compensate you for all the harms, losses and damages you incurred because a doctor was careless is a powerful thing. It’s not easy to do.
Today, I’m talking about how you’d feel.
During trial, you will have experienced the emotional highs and lows that go along with trial testimony. Some days you will be on top of the world believing that you’re kicking ass and there’s no way you can lose.
Other days, you will be depressed and sad wondering why your case is going downhill.
Some witnesses will be superstars and everyone in the courtroom will know it.
Others will be duds and make you wonder why your lawyer called them to testify in the first place.
Before we explore more of your FEELINGS after your verdict, I’d like to take you back in time to how you FELT before you decided to start your lawsuit against your doctor and the hospital staff.
You needed medical treatment.
Your doctor convinced you to have it.
The risks were routine and ordinary. “Nothing unusual,” he said.
You trusted your doctor and agreed to have the procedure.
You were able to do your daily activities without help.
You were able to go about your day on your own.
You were totally independent.
After the surgical procedure, you suffered significant harm.
You needed corrective medical treatment.
You needed multiple surgeries to correct the problem.
You started to feel as if your doctor deceived you.
You couldn’t believe that you trusted your doctor to treat you the way he did.
Each day, when doctors and nurses would visit you in the hospital, they’d ask you how you came to be in this terrible condition.
More than one suggested that this never should have happened.
That got you wondering.
“What do you mean this never should have happened?” you’d ask.
One eager young doctor-in-training closed the door to your room and quietly told you that the injuries you received from this procedure should NOT have happened. He suggested that the only way this happens is if your doctor was careless.
You’re shocked hearing this.
You never imagined your doctor could be careless.
You never thought that your doctor could cause you harm, either intentionally or carelessly.
The more you think about it, the angrier you get.
You convince yourself, based on a few doctors’ comments, that you should not be in this situation. You shouldn’t be in the intensive care unit. You shouldn’t be incurring thousands of dollars of medical bills. It shouldn’t have happened!
Your anger consumes you.
You can’t walk.
You can’t go home yet.
You can’t return to work.
Pain that requires narcotic medication like morphine and oxycodone.
Pain that you’ll likely have for the remainder of your life, according to your treating doctors.
You begin to wonder what your life is going to be life living with this intolerable pain.
Pain when you awake each day.
Pain that prevents you from a full night’s sleep.
Pain when you get up to walk.
Holy shit, when will you be pain free?
That prompts you to worry.
You begin to worry about how you’ll do your daily activities.
How will you do tasks that your family depends upon?
You’re now filled with anger and worry.
When you realize your physical rehabilitation is taking much longer than you expected, your thoughts turn to despair. You think there’s no hope. You think this disability will last forever. Some of your therapists are trying to sugarcoat your condition to give you a false sense of hope.
They think by telling you you’re getting better that your mind will convince you that you’re improving. But you know you’re not. You become depressed. You become overwhelmed. A psychiatrist is called in to chat with you. Each day.
One of the questions your psychiatrist asks you every time he sees you is if you feel like hurting yourself. He wants to know if you have any horrible ideas about hurting yourself or someone else. You hadn’t thought about it until he brings it up. He put that idea in your head. Shit. Something else for you to worry about now.
The talking doesn’t help.
You’re frustrated listening to your doctors tell you they’re trying to help you get better. But talking doesn’t work. The treatment and therapy is not working. You’re making very little progress. Your doctors still tell you this takes time. Lots of it.
One day a family friend stops by the hospital to visit. He asks you innocently how you came to be in this terrible situation. You tell him the story in fifteen minutes. He sits there listening patiently, nodding his head, without saying a word. After you’re done telling him what your doctor did and how you wound up in rehab, your family friend asks if he could have your medical records reviewed by one of his medical experts.
He’ll request your medical records and he’ll pay for copying costs. Then, he’ll review your records and ask one of his board certified medical experts to review them as well.
He wants to know whether the treatment you received was appropriate.
He wants to know why you suffered the injuries that are now preventing you from doing your daily activities and returning you to your family and work.
Turns out that your family friend is a medical malpractice attorney.
Two months later, your family friend comes to your home to chat with you.
You’ve finally been discharged home only days earlier.
You need a visiting nurse.
She comes to your home seven days a week.
She’s with you for twelve hours each day.
She cleans you.
She feeds you.
She bathes you.
You hate every minute of it.
You can’t do a damn thing on your own.
You used to be so darn independent and now you need help to do the simplest tasks.
Yet you’re grateful you have good health insurance.
You’re grateful that this visiting nurse is so good at what she does.
You’re grateful you’re still alive.
But you’re not grateful that you’re in this predicament.
You’re not grateful that you can’t go back to work.
You’re not grateful that you have bills piling up and can't pay your mortgage and car payments.
Your family friend comes by to tell you the results of his expert review.
He tells you that your doctor violated the basic standards of good medical care.
He tells you that your doctors’ carelessness caused your injuries.
Had it not been for his negligence, you never would have had these permanent disabling injuries.
You being to cry learning this information.
You are horrified to learn you’re in this condition because your doctor was careless.
Your life has been turned upside down all because of your doctors’ wrongdoing.
That makes you mad.
That makes you scream out loud.
That makes you question your belief in God and how he let this happen to you.
What bad things have you done in your life to justify having God do this to you?
Your family friend, the medical malpractice attorney, interrupts your monologue.
He tells you that God didn’t do this to you.
He reminds you that it was your physician, the one you trusted who did this.
Not intentionally, but carelessly. There’s a difference.
He tells you that the only way to get you compensated for all the injuries you suffered is to bring a lawsuit against your doctor and the hospital staff. They certainly won’t voluntarily write you a check to repay you for all the harms and losses you suffered.
That thought prompts you to smile and give a quick laugh.
“Yeah, imagine if I called up my doctor and told him I want him to write me a check for $5 million dollars because of what he did. He’d laugh at me and then hang up the phone!” you say.
As your attorney friend explains how medical malpractice lawsuits work, you begin to feel better.
You know that money won’t make you physically better.
You know that money won’t allow you to return to work.
You also know that getting money from your careless doctor is not going to change your ability to do your normal activities.
All this talk reminds you of the children’s nursery rhyme ‘Humpty Dumpty’.
“All the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again…”
When your lawyer tells you not to worry about the lawsuit, it feels as if a huge burden has been lifted from your shoulders. It feels good knowing that you have a professional working for you to try and get you money for your injuries.
After he leaves, you begin to wonder what it would be like if he’s able to get you $5 million dollars. You could buy a nice car for your family. You could pay off your mortgage. You could go on a nice vacation or two. Your kids college tuition would be easily paid for. You might even upgrade to a new house.
You might treat yourself to some new clothes and that expensive watch you’ve had your eye on for a while. This daytime fantasy is enticing. You’re envisioning what your life would look like if your lawyer is successful.
Then, you come back to reality.
The reality is that your lawyer is taking a risk here.
He’s investing his own money in your case.
He’s investing his time to prosecute your malpractice case.
He’s betting that you have a valid case, based on his medical expert who reviewed your records.
He’s hoping that his investment of his time and money pays off.
Before you can get any money for your injuries, your lawyer has to make sure your doctor has sufficient malpractice insurance to cover your injuries. Same for the hospital staff. Once that’s confirmed, he has to confirm the extent of your injuries with your treating doctors.
Are your injuries permanent? Yes.
Are they disabling? Yes.
Do you have economic losses? Financial losses to you and your family because of your injuries? Yes, lots of them.
Do you have non-economic losses like pain and the suffering you endured? Absolutely.
Your family friend tells you that even though you have an excellent case, if it goes to a jury trial, ANYTHING can happen.
You could lose.
You could win a small amount of money.
On the other hand, a jury could give you a lot of money.
Of course, you could get an amount somewhere in between.
The sad reality is that there are no guarantees when going to trial.
Your lawyer can’t guarantee any type of result.
He can only guarantee he’ll do his best to represent you.
You feel comforted knowing that your family friend will do right by you.
It feels good knowing he’ll put the screws to your doctor.
Hopefully, he’ll get your doctor to confess to what he did.
Hopefully, he’ll get your doctor to acknowledge he did wrong by you.
That’s because you know, in your heart of hearts, that you have a strong case.
You know, in your heart of hearts that your doctor violated the standard of care.
You know in your mind that a jury will see it your way.
They just have to.
Your lawyer tells you that a lawsuit is like a marathon.
Not a sprint.
It will take a while.
At least two to three years.
You wonder if you can make it that long.
You wonder if these injuries have shortened your life span.
You wonder if your personality will change during those long years waiting for your case to come up for trial.
Your family notices that you’re angry all the time.
They notice and tell you that you’ve lost your patience.
You have no tolerance anymore.
The slightest thing sets you off.
You yell more often.
Often for very little or no reason.
You’re not a nice person any more.
That gets you even more depressed.
That puts you into a vicious cycle.
Your visiting nurse sees again that you’re in a funk and calls the psychiatrist.
The first question he asks you is if you want to hurt yourself or others.
Thankfully, the answer is “No.”
Your lawyer tells you to focus on yourself and getting better physically.
He tells you to leave the legal stuff to him.
That’s fine by you.
He calls you each month to let you know what’s happening or what’s not happening.
This way, you have an idea of what’s going on with your case.
I’m going to fast forward here to your trial.
Believe me when I tell you there are plenty of emotional ups and downs that will happen during your lawsuit. I’ll save those for another article.
I’m also going to fast forward through your gut-wrenching trial.
Your trial where your doctor refuses to acknowledge he did anything wrong.
Your trial where your doctor refuses to accept that if he did something wrong it caused you harm.
Your trial where your doctor ridicules your injuries by claiming you’re not as badly hurt as you claim to be.
Instead, I want to take you right up to the jury’s verdict.
The judge has instructed the jury on the law.
He tells them they MUST answer a series of questions.
The answers to those questions form their verdict.
He tells the jury that their verdict cannot be based on sympathy.
Instead, it must be based on the facts and the law as he explains it.
The jury is not to be swayed by whom the verdict helps or hurts.
The judge reads each question to the jury.
Question #1: Was Dr. Jones negligent?
If yes, then go to question #2.
If no, then stop and report back to the court.
If yes, then go to question #3.
If no, then stop and report back to the court.
Question #3: How much money do you give the injured patient for her past pain and suffering?
Question #4: How much money do you give the injured patient for pain and suffering into the future?
Question #5: Over how many years does this future award cover?
The other questions relate to economic losses including lost earnings, lost employment benefits, medical bills and future lost income.
The judge then sends the jury out to begin their deliberations.
You’re worried again.
You’re worried about not knowing the outcome.
You’re worried you could lose this case.
You’ve already lost three years of your life.
A few more hours or days won’t really make a difference your lawyer tells you.
He also tells you the hours spent waiting for the jury to reach their verdict will be the longest hours of your life.
That’s because there's an unknown here.
You don’t know what the jury is talking about.
You don’t know what the jury is concerned with.
You don’t know who the jury is favoring.
You can’t concentrate. It’s impossible for you to read the newspaper.
You don’t want to talk to anyone on the phone.
You don’t want to check your email.
You just want the jury to hurry up and decide your case.
“What’s taking so long?” you wonder.
He understands your frustration.
Then he explains that there’s no guilt or innocence in these malpractice cases.
Instead, the jury must determine if you are more likely right than wrong with what you are claiming.
If you are, you’ll win.
If you’re not, you’ll lose.
It’s that simple.
Does the jury believe you and your witnesses?
Or, do they believe the doctor and hospital staff?
Finally, after seven hours of deliberating, the jury has FINALLY reached a decision!
“THANK GOD!” you exclaim.
“FINALLY!” you think.
Except you still don’t know the verdict.
The jury has sent a note to the judge that they have reached a verdict.
The judge tells the court officer to let the attorneys and the litigants know the verdict is in and to return to the courtroom immediately.
Fifteen minutes later, everyone involved in your case has returned back to the courtroom.
The judge tells the court officer to bring the jury in.
One minute later the court officer yells out “ALL RISE!”
The jury shuffles in.
None of the jurors look at you.
None of the jurors make eye contact with your attorney either.
That’s not a good sign.
You’ve got butterflies in your stomach.
The tension is killing you.
The judge asks the court officer to see the verdict sheet.
The officer walks to the jury foreman and asks for the verdict sheet. He takes it and walks it over to the judge.
The judge takes the verdict sheet and with a strong poker face opens the paper.
He quickly glances through the answers, then looks up at the jury.
You can’t tell anything from the judge’s expression.
You’re trying to guess what the judge just saw.
The attorneys are trying desperately to see through the white piece of paper that the judge just read from.
They can’t see anything.
Then, the judge hands the verdict sheet back to the court officer who walks it back to the jury foreman. He asks the foreman to rise.
“As to question #1: Was Dr. Jones negligent? What do you say?”
“We find that Dr. Jones WAS negligent.”
“Oh my God!” you think. The first question is in your favor!
You knew it. You just knew it. Let’s see what happens with the second question…
“As to question #2: Was Dr. Jones’ negligence a proximate cause of your injury?” How do you find?
“We find that yes, Dr. Jones’ negligence was a proximate cause of this patient’s injury,” the jury foreperson reads.
“OH MY GOODNESS!” you say to your spouse with relief.
The verdict isn’t over.
The first two questions are in your favor.
Now it’s time to learn how much money the jury is giving you to compensate you for all your injuries.
“We give her $2 Million dollars,” the jury foreman says without a hint of what’s to come.
You almost pass out.
You hear the amount but it doesn’t totally register.
You’re not sure whether this is the total amount or just one element of damages.
“As to question #4: How much money do you give the injured patient for the future?”
“We give her $2 million dollars,” the foreman reads again.
You’re not sure whether he simply repeated the answer to the original question or whether this is an additional $2 million dollars.
This is going too fast for you to really process.
“As to question #5, for how many years does this future pain and suffering amount apply?” “For the next 25 years,” the foreman answers.
“As to question #6: How much do you give her for her lost earnings?” “We, the jury give her $500,000 for her lost earnings,” he says.
“As to question #7: How much do you give her for her future lost earnings?” “We give her $300,000,” he says sadly.
“As to question #8: How much do you give her spouse for loss of her services to their family relationship?”
“We give him $200,000,” he says finally.
You’re in shock.
The jury just gave you a lot of money.
But you’re not sure what the total amount is.
You want to jump up and hug your lawyer.
You want to thank him for all he did.
You want to ask him how much the jury actually gave you.
Before you have a chance to do any of that, a bombshell hits you.
Right between your eyes.
The defense lawyer jumps up out of his seat and with anger he yells out “Judge, I demand that you throw out this verdict as being against the weight of the evidence!”
The judge hesitates a moment.
He thinks carefully for another few seconds then puts his hand up to silence the defense lawyer.
“Denied,” the judge says firmly. “The jury has spoken. If you want to make post-trial motions, you have thirty days to do so.”
You think it’s over.
The fat lady has sung.
Not so fast.
The defense lawyer stands up again and says “Judge, I ask that the jury be polled on their verdict!”
That means that the judge must now ask each juror whether this verdict truly represents what their intentions were. It really seeks confirmation that what they meant was accurately reported in their written verdict sheet.
The judge agrees and takes ten minutes to ask each juror whether that was their correct answer to each question.
It turns out that the jury was unanimous on every question they had to answer.
They all agreed!
You knew they would.
You knew they’d find your doctor was careless.
You knew you’d be victorious.
You knew, in your heart of hearts that the jury would give you money.
You just didn’t know how much.
The judge thanks the jury for their service and tells them they can now speak to the attorneys if they wish.
Your lawyer bolts out of the courtroom, telling you to stay put while he tries to talk to the jurors.
You see your doctor slink out of the courtroom with his head down.
For a fleeting moment you feel bad for your doctor.
Then, once he leaves the courtroom, you realize it was his wrongdoing that forced you down this legal journey.
You turn to your spouse and hug.
You are elated.
You are beaming.
You start crying.
Your spouse asks why you’re crying. Your answer is shockingly simple.
“Because no amount of money is going to put me back the way I was before I was injured. That’s why,” you tell him.
“Yes, that’s true. But that money will help you pay for our mortgage. It will pay for your car. It will pay for modifications to our house. It will pay for the kids college. It will pay for the best medical care you can get.
The money will make your life a little easier, that’s all.
It will provide a level of security for our family.
Ten minutes later you’ve stopped crying.
Your lawyer returns to an empty courtroom with just you and your spouse.
You reach over and give him a giant hug.
You start crying again.
You thank him for all he’s done.
For believing in you.
For understanding you.
For once in three years you feel happy.
Happy that the legal system worked.
Happy that it worked in your favor.
Happy that justice was served.
Your lawyer tells you about his brief conversation with a few of the jurors.
He gives you an insight into what they were thinking during their deliberations.
The jurors wanted to ask the judge for a calculator but eventually realized they didn’t need one.
He says your case is not over.
“What? What do you mean?” you ask with another level of anxiety building up.
“Just what I’ve said. There are post-trial motions that the defense will make. The defense lawyer will again ask the judge to throw out your verdict claiming that the evidence does not support the verdict.”
“But didn’t the judge just deny his request?” you ask incredulously.
“Yes he did, but the judge allows the losing party to make the same request in writing and to support that request with the trial transcript. Then, I have to submit a detailed and lengthy reply explaining why your verdict is justified,” your lawyer says calmly.
Oh no. More uncertainty. You just got a verdict in your favor now that verdict is at risk of being thrown out or reduced. Oh no. Not again.
You lawyer then delivers more bad news.
“Then, if the judge decides to keep the verdict as it is or even reduce it, the defense will still not be happy. They will then appeal the verdict and also appeal the judge’s decision,” your lawyer says with confidence.
But wait, there’s more…
When your case gets appealed, the higher court could throw your case out. They could decide that your verdict was not based on the available evidence and decide you need to have your case tried all over again! With a new jury.
The higher court could decide your verdict was perfect and leave it as is.
The higher court could decide your verdict was too high and reduce it.
They could also decide you did not receive enough money and increase how much you are to receive.
There are so many uncertainties associated with an appeal.
Then, to add frosting to the cake, your lawyer tells you that because of all these uncertainties, it’s possible the defense will be interested in settling your case.
“Because there are risks of continuing this litigation. There are significant costs associated with bringing an appeal and retrying your case. It may make sense to try and settle if they can do it for a reasonable number,” your lawyer says.
With that last statement you now have some hope that all this litigation was worthwhile.
Your lawyer finally tells you that the total tally for the amount of compensation the jury decided you are to receive is $5 million dollars.
With that, you hug your lawyer again and make your way out of the courtroom to commiserate and replay the tumultuous events of the day with your spouse.
Now you know exactly what it feels like to get a $5 million dollar verdict in a medical malpractice case.