You suffered horrible injuries.
You believe your doctor was careless.
You believe your doctor violated the basic standards of medical care.
You've decided to bring a lawsuit against your doctor.
You find the best attorney you can who is willing to investigate.
He hires an excellent board certified physician to evaluate your records.
Your medical expert confirms that
- There was wrongdoing,
- The wrongdoing caused injury and
- The injury is significant and permanent.
You know, in your heart of hearts, that the doctor and his insurance company will want to settle this case quickly.
You believe that the doctor will not want to go through with a messy lawsuit that could take years to finish.
You believe your doctor would rather settle quickly than get dragged into a lawsuit that would impugn his character and reputation.
You are shocked to learn that the defense does not see it that way.
In fact, they deny your doctor did anything wrong.
They deny that the doctor caused or contributed to your injuries.
They deny that the injuries you are claiming are really as bad as you say.
That means any semblance of attempting to resolve your case quickly has gone out the window.
Your attorney tells you the defense is gearing up for trial.
He tells you your case will take anywhere from 2-3 years to get to trial.
You resign yourself to the fact you will need to try your case.
At trial, a jury must evaluate whether you are more likely right than wrong that what you're claiming is true.
After 2 1/2 years of litigation, your case finally comes up for trial.
Your lawyers prepared to do battle.
Your witnesses are lined up.
Your experts are lined up.
Your attorney prepares you for the questions you will be asked at trial.
You are ready.
What you don't yet realize is that all of the testimony and evidence of the jury will hear will need to be processed by the jury to determine whether you are more likely right than wrong that what you are claiming is true.
Only toward the end of your trial do you learn from your attorney that in order for the jury to reach their verdict, they must answer specific detailed questions. Legally, these are known as jury interrogatories.
You were under the assumption that at the end of the trial the jury simply comes back and determines whether you are entitled to receive money or not.
That's not how it works.
That's not how any of it works.
Instead, the attorneys present the judge with proposed questions for the jury to answer.
In a detailed conference between the attorneys and the judge before closing arguments are given, the attorneys are given an opportunity to explain to the judge why certain questions should be asked and certain ones should not be asked.
This conference is legally known as a"Charge conference."
During this discussion held in the judge's chambers, the judge tells the attorneys which sections of law he will be discussing with the jury. If the attorneys disagree, they will be allowed to put their objection on the record to preserve their objection in the event they have to appeal.
In a medical malpractice case for example, a jury will be presented with at least three questions...
There are usually subsections for every question that the jury must answer.
Each of these questions forms a decision tree that either allows the jury to continue to the next question or stop them cold in their tracks.
Without further ado, let's get right to the three basic questions the jury must answer...
Was the defendant negligent?
This question asks the jury to determine whether the doctor you have sued was careless.
If the jury determines that you are slightly more likely right than wrong that the doctor was careless at a particular day and a particular time, the jury will answer this question"YES."
That allows the jury to continue to question number two.
If the jury determines that your doctor was not careless, then they must answer the question"NO."
If the jury decides that the doctor was not careless, that's the end of the trial.
That's their verdict.
That means you receive no money as compensation for all of your harms, injuries and losses.
That means your attorney will have spent hundreds and thousands of hours of his time, energy and resources prosecuting your case for the past 2 1/2 years and walk away with nothing to show for it.
That means, you walk away with nothing.
That is as it should be.
If the doctor is not legally responsible for your injuries, then he clearly should not be held accountable to pay for your damages.
On the other hand, once the jury determines that your doctor was careless, now they are required to go on to question number two...
Was the defendant's negligence a proximate cause of your injury?
This question is designed to find out if there is a link between the wrongdoing and your injury.
Legally, there must be a link between the doctor violating the basic standards of medical care and you suffering an injury.
There are many instances where a doctor or hospital staff will have done something wrong but that wrongdoing did not result in injury to the patient.
In that instance, if the jury determines that there is no connection between the wrongdoing and your injury, the jury is told to answer the question"NO."
That means your case is now comes to an abrupt end.
Thank means you will receive no money for your injuries.
If the jury has decided your doctor was careless and his carelessness caused you injury, they must proceed to question number three...
How much money do you give the injured patient for her damages?
This is a really simple example.
In most trials there are many different elements of damages that are claimed.
Examples of damages include economic and non-economic damages.
Economic losses are those we can easily quantify.
For example, if an injured patient was earning $100,000 dollars salary per year and now can no longer work for the remainder of her life, we can now have an economist come in to court to help the jury understand how much money this person would have received had she not suffered these injuries and continued to live a normal life.
Likewise, we can show how much money she earned from the time of the malpractice up until that time of trial based upon her prior earnings history.
If she is also claiming medical expenses, we can produce those bills, receipts and payments to reflect the actual amounts of money that need to be repaid to her as a result of the doctor's wrongdoing.
Examples of non-economic loss include claims of pain and suffering.
That would include the suffering she endured from the time of the medical malpractice till trial.
That would also include the suffering she can be expected to endure into the future.
The jury is also told to evaluate each element of damages separately and not to consider them cumulatively.
These are the three basic questions that a jury must answer in a medical malpractice case that goes to trial here in NY.