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This Medical Expert Made No Sense! Juror Didn't Understand What He Said. Can He Interrupt the Trial to Ask Expert to Explain Himself?

One of the jurors on your case just went "HUH?" in his mind.
Another was confused.
Yet another couldn't understand what this medical expert just said.

Can any of these jurors raise their hand and say "Excuse me judge...I didn't understand what this guy just said. Can I ask him to explain it a different way?"

In New York, the short answer is no.
But, there may be a way for the answer to be yes and let me tell you how and why...

If your medical malpractice case goes to trial, it means that six members of the community will be deciding if you are slightly more likely right than wrong. They will need to decide if your doctor violated the basic standards of medical care. If yes, did that wrongdoing cause you significant harm and injury? If yes, then they will be required to give you money to compensate you for all the harms and losses you suffered at the hands of your careless doctor.

These six people are jurors.
People from the community.
They are summoned to appear (voluntarily...sort of) in court.

Then, they must go through a 'selection' process, which isn't really a selection process at all.
Lawyers don't look at jurors on paper or even in person and decide which jurors they want for your trial.
Instead, lawyers actually go through a 'deselection' process to eliminate those people whom they DON'T want sitting on their jury. 

The people who are left remaining in the room become your jurors by default.

Ok, enough background.
Let's get to trial.
During trial, the jurors are going to listen to witness testify.

Jurors are going to see medical records.
They will see exhibits like anatomical models and drawings.
They are going to hear from medical experts.

Throughout the trial, jurors sit and listen passively.
They do not participate in the trial.
They do not ask questions (usually).

They rely on the attorneys to understand what the issues are and what the medicine is all about.

That means if a juror has a question about what an expert has said, it is usually impossible for the juror to ask the expert a question. Imagine if the juror interrupted the attorney or the expert in the middle of answering a question... "Excuse me Dr. Expert. I didn't understand that last answer you just gave. Could you explain it better please?"

Ah no. That's not how it works. That's not how any of it works.

In many trials, the juror will have to sit quietly hoping his question gets answered by the expert or another witness.
However, this is one way that the juror could have his question answered.
You see, some judges recognize that jurors will have questions from time to time.

A juror might not understand the medicine.
A juror might not understand a theory of why this expert feels a certain way.
A juror might be confused about the legal requirements that the expert must meet in order to give expert testimony.

There are some judges in New York who WILL allow jurors to ask questions, but not in the middle of questioning and not by blurting out their question. Instead, some judges will tell the jury that if they have questions for an expert or a witness, only AFTER the attorney has finished questioning the witness can you ask your question.

BUT, the juror cannot simply blurt out the question.
Instead, he must write down the question, pass it to the court officer who then hands it to the judge.
The judge will read the question silently and then decide whether the question is appropriate.

If it's not appropriate, he will indicate that the question is not appropriate and move on.
If however the judge deems the question is appropriate, then the judge will ask the witness the question posed by the juror. At the end of the answer, he will likely turn to the jury and ask whether that answer satisfied the juror's curiosity. If yes, then the judge will move the case forward.

If no, then the judge will ask the juror to again write down his question and again the judge will decide if that question is appropriate to ask.

To learn more about jurors asking questions at trial, I invite you to watch the quick video below...


Gerry Oginski
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NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer