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If a Doctor was Careless & Caused His Patient Harm, is he then Guilty of Committing Medical Malpractice? Or is he Innocent? The better question to ask is whether this is a civil case or a criminal case.

You believe your doctor was careless.

You believe his carelessness caused your injury.
You trusted your doctor.
You thought he would do right by you.
 
Instead, you wound up with horrible injuries.
 
When you bring a lawsuit against your doctor some people believe that when your case goes to trial, a jury will then determine whether your doctor was guilty of committing malpractice.
 

Actually, that terminology is totally incorrect.

 
In a criminal case where someone is charged with a criminal act, if the case goes to trial, the jury reaches a verdict, or a judge reaches a verdict.
 
That criminal case verdict is defined as either 'guilty' or 'not guilty'.
 
You should know that the 'guilty' or 'not guilty' terminology has nothing to do with a civil lawsuit seeking money as a form of compensation for all injuries and harms you suffered.
 
You might be wondering what exactly a jury in a civil lawsuit has to decide in order for them to reach their verdict.
 

Let me share with you exactly what the jury has to decide in order to reach their verdict.

 

You should know that in civil lawsuits involving accident cases, medical malpractice cases and wrongful death cases here in NY, there will be six members of the community who sit in judgment to decide whether you are more likely right than wrong that what you are claiming is true.
 
In addition to the six jurors, there will be extra jurors also sitting and listening to the testimony and evidence. Those folks are known as alternate jurors. They sit there throughout the trial listening to the same testimony and evidence as the main six jurors.
 
However, they play very important function in the event that one of the six main jurors get sick or are unable to complete their jury service.
 

If one of those jurors cannot continue with their jury duty, the judge will randomly select one of the alternate jurors to take their place.

 
After all of the testimony and evidence have been presented, the attorneys will get to make closing arguments to the jury.
The judge then spends a considerable amount of time discussing and explaining the law in New York as it specifically applies to this particular case.
 
The jury is then told that they must answer specific questions.
Legally, these are known as jury interrogatories.
 
The first question the jury will be asked is whether the defendant was negligent.
To be clear, the 'defendant' is the person who is being sued.
The 'plaintiff' is the person who is bringing the lawsuit.
 

Negligence is often defined as carelessness.

In a medical malpractice matter you claim your doctor violated the basic standards of medical care causing you harm. 
The judge explains to the jury the definition of medical negligence.
 
Basically, medical negligence is defined as medical carelessness.
 
The jury must then follow a decision tree.
What this means is that if the jury determines that the doctor you sued was not negligent, the case is over and it goes no further.
In that instance, the injured victim receives no money as compensation.
 

On the other hand, if the jury determines the doctor was careless, they are required to go to the second question.

 
The second question is whether there is a link between the doctor's wrongdoing and the patient's injury.
Legally, that link is known as causation.
The question posed to the jury is "Was the defendant's negligence a proximate clause of the patient's injury?"
 
If the answer is no, then the case is over and the jury must inform the judge of their verdict.
There is no finding of guilt or innocence in this type of civil lawsuit.
 

Instead, the jury looks to see if the doctor you sued is legally responsible for your injury.

 
Getting back to jury questions...if the jury determines that the doctor's carelessness was a cause of your injury, then the jury is required to go to the next question.
 
The next question focuses on damages.
It focuses on how much money you will receive for each element of damages you have claimed.
There are often multiple elements of damages.
 

To break it down, there really two different types of damages.

There are economic damages and there are noneconomic damages.
 
Noneconomic damages talk about things that cannot be easily and readily quantifiable such as past pain and suffering that happened from the time of the malpractice until the time trial.
 
That is often a span of 2-3 years.
 
Another form of noneconomic damages would be future pain and suffering.
Economic damages refers to those type of monetary damages and losses that can be quantified.
 

As an example, someone's lost earnings can easily be calculated and quantified based upon their earnings history.

 
We can also calculate the earning loss this person will have into the future. We typically do that using economic experts who come into court to discuss what this person would likely have earned in the future.
 
An economist will also be able to discuss the value of a dollar today compared to the value of a dollar in 10, 20 & 30 years into the future.
 

When the jury has finished answering all of the necessary questions, they report back to the judge that they have reached their verdict.

 

In this civil lawsuit involving claims against your doctor for improperly treating you, the jury never decides whether a doctor is guilty or not guilty of committing malpractice.
 
Instead, they focus on whether the doctor was careless.
They focus on whether that carelessness was a cause of your injury.
If they answer yes to both of those things, then the next segment of their job is to determine how much money you are to receive.
 

To learn even more about what a jury does when evaluating a civil lawsuit here in New York, I invite you to watch the video below.


Gerry Oginski
NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer