Part 11: Trial Procedure

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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Once a jury has been selected, the jury trial begins with counsel for each party making an opening statement. In an opening statement, the party explains to the jury the evidence that is expected to be introduced during the trial.[1] An opening statement is limited to the facts of the case and cannot be argumentative.[2] 

Next, each side produces evidence to support his or her case. The plaintiff bears the burden of proving that he or she is entitled to damages and therefore goes first. Evidence can be presented in many forms such as witness testimony, physical items, documents like medical records, and video recordings.[3] In presenting the evidence, the party must always abide by the Rules of Evidence, which govern what evidence can be heard and how it can be used at trial.[4]  

When witness testimony is presented during the trial, the party calling the witness performs a “direct examination” where the party asks the witness questions relating to the case.[5] The opposing party then has the ability to question the witness, which is called “cross-examination.”[6] Finally, the party who originally called the witness is able to wrap up the questioning on “redirect examination.”[7] 

After the close of the plaintiff’s evidence, it is the defendant’s turn to put on his or her case. Like the plaintiff, the defendant may call witnesses and introduce evidence. 

After both sides have provided their evidence, they are allowed to give a closing argument. Again, since the plaintiff brings the case, the plaintiff goes first. The defendant follows. In closing arguments, each party discusses the evidence that has been presented and explains to the jury or judge how the evidence supports the party’s position.[8]

After closing arguments, jury instructions are read to the jury, which explain to the jurors the requisite burden of proof in the case and the relevant law they must follow in rendering a verdict.[9] The jury then retires to the jury room to deliberate.

Once the jury has reached a decision, the jurors return to the courtroom to announce their verdict. In a medical malpractice case, the verdict is read as either being for the plaintiff or for the defendant.[10]  If the verdict is for the defendant, the trial is over. If the jury finds for the plaintiff, the jury will also determine the appropriate amount of damages.[11] The jury is then excused. After the trial, a formal judgment is entered. 

Even though a verdict is rendered, the case is not necessarily over. The unsuccessful party has the opportunity to appeal, which will be covered next month in Part 12.

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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