Part 10: The Jury Trial

Med Mal 101: Back to Basics is 12-part series produced by Friday, Eldredge & Clark. Written by the attorneys in the Medical Malpractice Group, the content is designed to give physicians and other healthcare providers information they need to know about malpractice litigation.

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Citizens of Arkansas have a right to jury trial.[1] When a medical care provider is sued, he or she may demand a trial by jury, but this right may also be waived.[2] Typically, if a party does not demand a jury trial, the case will be heard by a judge, unless the court orders a trial by jury on its own.[3] 

A “bench trial” occurs when the case is tried to the judge, with no jury. In that case, the judge weighs the evidence and renders a verdict from the bench. 

In our state, almost all actions for medical injury are tried before a jury. In a jury trial, the judge answers questions of law and a jury answers questions about the facts of the case. 

With jury trials, a case is tried to a group of people who hear the case and render a verdict. Jurors are selected from a much larger pool of people called the “venire,” made up of those who appear for jury service.  The venire is comprised of those persons whose names appear on the current voter registration list or a combination of voter registration and driver’s license listings[4] In state court in Arkansas, unless otherwise agreed upon by the parties, the jury will ultimately consist of 12 people.[5]

The jury panel is selected through a process called “voir dire.”[6]  During voir dire, attorneys for each party have the opportunity to ask the venire questions that help them decide who may be qualified to serve as jurors in the case.[7]  In some courts, however, the judge will question the jurors in addition to, or rather than, the attorneys.[8] Some jurors may be excused “for cause.” This typically means that the juror has some knowledge of the parties or the case, such that he or she may have a bias that might prevent him or her from being able to fairly weigh the evidence in the case.  Each side is also permitted to use three “peremptory strikes” to eliminate potential jurors from the pool based on reasons other than “cause.”[9]  Alternate jurors may also be selected in case an empaneled juror becomes ill or must be excused for another reason during the trial.[10] 

Once the jury is selected, they are then sworn “to well and truly try the case” and a “true verdict render.”[11] Once the jury is sworn, the trial begins. 

Next month’s article will discuss the remaining parts of a jury trial through verdict.

[1] Ark. Const. art. II, § 7.

[2] See Ark. R. Civ. P. 38.

[3] See Ark. R. Civ. P. 39.

[4] How a Jury is Selected, Arkansas Judiciary, https://www.arcourts.gov/jury/guide/jury-selection (last visited Oct. 28, 2019).

[5] See Ark. R. Civ. P. 48.

[6] What Happens the Day of Trial, Arkansas Judiciary, https://www.arcourts.gov/jury/guide/day-of-trial (last visited Oct. 26, 2019).

[7] Id. 

[8] See Ark. R. Civ. P. 47(a).

[9] What Happens the Day of Trial, Arkansas Judiciary, https://www.arcourts.gov/jury/guide/day-of-trial (last visited Oct. 26, 2019).

[10] See Ark. R. Civ. P. 47(a).

[11] See Ark. Code Ann. § 16-89-109 for the Arkansas Jury Oath.

 

The information was written by the attorneys in the Medical Malpractice Group at Friday, Eldredge & Clark, LLP. This is not a substitute for legal advice and should be considered for general guidance only. For more information or if you have further questions, please contact one of our Medical Malpractice Attorneys.

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