This happens from time to time. You may have sued multiple doctors and a hospital.

During trial one of the doctors decides to settle with you and makes you an offer that is too good to pass up. You agree to settle with one of the doctors and continue lawsuit against the remaining doctors and the hospital.

If the trial has started, the jury will be left to wonder why one of the doctors and his attorney is no longer in the courtroom every day. They will see an empty chair. They will not know that you have settled against one of the doctors. The empty chair creates many questions.

In this circumstance the judge will instruct the jury that the doctor who is no longer in court is no longer part of the lawsuit. He will not tell the jury that you settled your case with Dr. "A."

If the judge were to tell the jury that the doctor settled with the injured victim, that would raise more questions than it would answer. Some common questions from the jury would be:

“How much did the doctor settle for?”

“If the first doctor settled, why didn't the other doctors and hospital settle as well?”

"If the first doctor is partially responsible for your injuries, and we now have to render a verdict about who is responsible, are we going to have to somehow distribute responsibility among the remaining people who are still in the case?”

When one doctor settles during trial, the attorneys are prohibited from telling the jury that they just settled with one of the doctors. 

At the end of the trial, when the jury deliberates and decides who is responsible and how much money to put in their verdict, one of the questions they will be asked is "What is the percentage of responsibility each of the doctors and hospital has?" This is known as apportioning liability.

If one or more doctors have settled the case during trial and they are no longer present at the time the case goes to the jury, the jury will still be required to assign percentages of responsibility to each of the doctors who were originally sued. They may find that the original doctors who are no longer at trial may be partially at fault for causing and contributing to your injuries. On the other hand, they may find that those individuals have no responsibility to causing your injuries.

This question is extremely important for the remaining doctors and hospital who are still in the case.

If the jury determines that the doctor who is no longer at trial is partially at fault for causing your injuries, then the remaining parties to the lawsuit will have their share of responsibility reduced by the amount that the other doctor was found to be responsible.

As an example, let's say there are two doctors at a hospital who were originally sued in the case. Dr. “A.” settles at the beginning of trial. The jury ultimately decides that Dr. A. is 33% responsible, Dr. B. is 33% responsible and the hospital is 33% responsible.

The jury will then determine how much money to put in its verdict. If the jury decides that you, the injured victim, are entitled to receive $1 million compensation, that means that Dr. B. is only responsible for 33% of that and the hospital is only responsible for 33% of that. However, what the jury will not know is that there is something in law known as a “set off.”

This means is that the amount of money that the injured victim obtained from Dr. "A" will offset the amount that the injured victim can now recover against Dr. B. and against the hospital.

Gerry Oginski
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NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer