Medical Malpractice trials begin with jury selection, a process that is both an art and a science. In Massachusetts, cases are tried to a jury of twelve in the Superior Court and depending on the length of the trial several alternates are empanelled as well.
Unlike other jurisdictions, lawyers in Massachusetts do not have the opportunity to conduct extensive questioning of prospective jurors (a process known as voir dire). So while attorneys for both sides will try to select jurors they believe will give their client a fair trial free of bias and prejudice, the fact is that in Massachusetts lawyers are allowed to know very little about the jurors they select.
Once the jury and alternates are selected and sworn in, the trial is officially underway.
This is the last of three blogs on this topic. Be sure to read Part 1 on the initial call, meeting, medical records review and expert consultation. Part 2 covers getting ready for the malpractice trial, discovery, and the realities of settlement vs trial.
Judges typically give juries some instructions about trials before the case starts. These instructions will be repeated in greater detail at the close of the case, but are designed to inform the jury of the very basics. The instructions usually go something like this:
"The Plaintiff alleges that she suffered injuries as a result of negligent medical care rendered by the Defendant. Because the Plaintiff has brought suit, she has the burden of proof. In a civil case that burden is satisfied if the Plaintiff has proven negligence by a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, the Plaintiff must prove that what she alleges to have occurred (an injury caused by negligence) is more likely true than not true. Having the burden of proof, the plaintiff always goes first at trial. The Plaintiff's case will begin with her attorney making an opening statement. The opening statement is an overview of the evidence that will be presented and how the Plaintiff will prove her claims of negligence. The Defendant's attorney will then give an opening but it is not mandatory until the plaintiff's case has concluded."
From there, the opening statements are made and the evidence begins.
Trials are all about evidence and the more convincing your evidence is the more likely you are to win. Evidence consists of the documents, photographs or videos, physical objects and testimony from witnesses that the judge allows the jury to see or hear.
In medical malpractice cases, the medical records play an indispensable role at trial because they serve as a repository of medical information about what happened to you while under the defendant's care. Jurors will hear testimony from experts on the standard of care and whether that standard was violated. The goal is to educate the jury in a straight forward and understandable way that your injuries were caused by medical negligence and that you deserve to be compensated for those injuries. Very often, blow-ups of the record and anatomical renderings are used to help the jury understand what happened and why.
Medical Malpractice trials are not simply a matter of proving liability and damages. They allow a jury to get to know you, your family and the consequences that your injuries have had on your life. Keep in mind that the lawyers and the parties will have lived with the case for years but the jury will be hearing and seeing your story unfold for the first time. First impressions are indeed lasting, and you will discover the importance of a lawyer having complete command of the facts and trial tested experience when you watch your lawyers in the courtroom.
When all the evidence is admitted and both sides have rested, the lawyers have one final opportunity to speak with the jury during closing arguments. Unlike opening statements, closing arguments are meant to give your lawyer the chance to persuade the jury that your evidence is stronger than the defense and that your injuries demand to be redressed.
Once the closings are finished, the judge will then instruct the jury on the law and how to apply it to the facts they find. Juries are the sole and exclusive judges of the facts and it is up to them to decide your fate. While no one can control what a jury ultimately decides based upon a given set of facts, if your lawyers prepare for trial from day one and bring extensive courtroom experience to bear on your case, your odds of prevailing are increased.
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Be sure to read Parts 1 and 2 of this article:
- Your Medical Malpractice Case: Here's What to Expect - Part 1
- Your Medical Malpractice Case: Here's What to Expect - Part 2
- Your Medical Malpractice Case: Here's What to Expect - Part 3