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Our Juries: Partners in Justice


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Our Juries: Partners in Justice

By William J. Dailey, Jr., Esq. and John P. Ryan, Esq., Sloane & Walsh, LLP

Related to: Claims, Emergency Medicine, Primary Care, Nursing, Obstetrics, Other Specialties, Surgery

Each year, between 650 and 750 medical malpractice cases will be filed in the Massachusetts courts. Each case will involve one or more healthcare providers being named as defendants. The great majority of these professionals will experience significant emotional distress and will feel challenged professionally. Many will be angry.

It is common for these health care providers to question the jury’s ability to understand and sort through the nuances of complex and controverted medical issues. Contrary to commonly held beliefs, experience has taught us that jurors have the commitment, discernment, and judgment to fairly determine even the most complex medical malpractice cases. It is important for defendants to see themselves and jurors as partners in the jury process, partners in justice — rather than adversaries.

Jurors want to believe in physicians; they are looking for evidence that practitioners cared for their patients and did their best. It is very unusual for a jury to find against a healthcare professional who measured up to those standards. At its best, the jury trial is a teaching experience for the physician and a learning experience for the jury. Looking at it this way increases the likelihood of effective interaction between defendants and jurors, which can lead to successful outcomes.

Jurors become very interested in the cases being tried before them. It has become common practice to provide them with notebooks containing copies of the pertinent medical records, peer-reviewed literature, and other evidentiary exhibits. It is equally common to allow jurors to take notes during the trial. Several members of the Massachusetts judiciary have adopted the practice of allowing jurors to ask questions of the witnesses after the lawyers have completed their respective examinations. It has even become acceptable for the defendant’s attorney to invite the defendant to step out of the witness box, center him or herself in front of the jury box, and explain the medicine using anatomical models, or illustrations. Jurors want to learn, just as they want to make an informed decision.


Originally published March 1, 2007. Republished June 1, 2013.

June 1, 2013
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