What to Expect During a Jury Trial for Medical Malpractice

Most people associate jury trials with criminal cases. However, the US legal system also permits jury trials for civil lawsuits, including medical malpractice claims. 

While it’s uncommon for malpractice cases to be heard before a jury, it can significantly affect a claim’s outcome. Let’s break down when jury trials occur in civil court, how they may impact the case, and what to expect during medical malpractice jury trials in California.

When Do Jury Trials Occur for Civil Cases?

The right to jury trials in federal civil cases is guaranteed under the Seventh Amendment, which states, “In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.” 

This clause means that almost any civil dispute heard in a federal court is eligible for a jury trial. While states are not held to the same standard of providing juries, California and most other states voluntarily included similar clauses in their constitutions. 

For example, California’s Declaration of Rights states, “Trial by jury is an inviolate right and shall be secured to all, but in a civil cause three-fourths of the jury may render a verdict.” In other words, anyone involved in a civil lawsuit has the right to request a trial by jury, but the jurors do not need to unanimously agree to decide the case. 

The federal and state rules mean that jury trials are possible for almost any civil case in California, including medical malpractice lawsuits. However, most cases never reach trial, so juries are rarely necessary. It’s much more likely that the plaintiff and defendant choose to settle before the court case begins.

Still, juries play an important role in civil law. Compared to bench trials, where a judge makes the decisions, jurors are typically more compassionate and less focused on procedural details. This can be a serious benefit for the plaintiff in certain cases, particularly if the defendant’s case relies on technicalities. Jurors are also more likely to award high damages to victims than the average judge. However, in highly technical cases, the jurors are more likely to get lost or confused, potentially putting your case at risk. It can also take longer since selecting jurors and explaining the case will take time. 

When is a jury trial preferable? That’s up for debate. Your attorney will help you determine whether your case is a good fit for a jury trial or whether a bench trial is better. 

What Does a Civil Jury Trial Look Like?

If your attorney has determined that a jury trial is the right choice, it’s important to understand how the process works. Here’s what to expect during each stage of your medical malpractice trial:

Juror Selection

If you have not settled your case during the pre-trial proceedings, the court will schedule the juror selection process. The judge and the attorneys for both the plaintiff and the defense will perform the voir dire process to choose eight or twelve jurors who will not be biased toward either side. 

During voir dire, the attorneys can make challenges for cause or peremptory challenges to exclude certain jurors. A challenge for cause should be based on an obvious sign of potential bias. For example, your medical malpractice lawyer would likely challenge jurors who work at the hospital where you were hurt since they may be biased against you. Meanwhile, peremptory challenges do not require a cause; they can be used to eliminate a limited number of jurors for any reason other than race or gender. 

Opening Statements

Once the jurors have been selected, the trial’s first hearing will be scheduled. At this hearing, both sides will make their opening statements to the jurors. This is a brief overview of the case, the facts of the matter, how the attorney wants them to rule, and the legal theory supporting this ruling. 

Examination of Witnesses

Next, as the plaintiff’s representation, your attorney will present your case in greater detail. This process includes presenting evidence and examining witnesses. Your lawyer will call your witnesses to the stand to ask them questions and provide their testimony. The goal in a civil trial is to support your claim and prove that it is more likely than not that the defendant caused you harm and should pay the damages you request. 

The defendant’s lawyer will typically cross-examine each witness after the initial examination to identify weaknesses in their testimony. Your attorney may then re-examine them to address any issues brought up in the process. 

Once your lawyer has fully presented their case, the defense will do the same. During the defense, the defendant’s attorney will attempt to prove that their client was not responsible for the harm you suffered. 

Closing Arguments

Once all evidence has been presented and witnesses examined, both sides will make their closing arguments. They are typically similar to the opening statements but summarize the evidence, testimony, and arguments the jurors have witnessed to encourage them to rule in favor of one side or the other. 

After the closing arguments, the jurors will deliberate. In California civil cases, only three-quarters of the jurors must agree to issue a verdict, which can make deliberations shorter than in criminal trials. If they rule in your favor, the jury will also award you damages based on their verdict. 

Prepare for Your Medical Malpractice Lawsuit With the Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC

A jury trial is a significant investment of time and effort. If you have a medical malpractice claim, you should talk to an experienced attorney about whether trial by jury is the best solution. You can schedule your case review with the Los Angeles medical malpractice attorneys at the Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC, to learn more.

Ready To Get Started? >>

Helping victims of Medical Malpractice in Los Angeles find calmer waters for over 30 years.

"*" indicates required fields

Please help us understand a little bit more about your case by providing the following information (if not provided in your email):

Please state the date you believe negligence occurred. In a death case, please provide the date of death.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Real Help.
    Right Now.