At the end of a trial, the jury is asked to answer a series of questions. Those questions are put into a form known as a verdict sheet. The specific questions the jury must answer will be tailored specifically to the type of case they are listening to and what specific proof is needed.
Typically, the first question will relate to liability. “Was the defendant negligent?” The exact definition of negligence will be provided by the judge so the jury will have an exact understanding of how to truly answer this question.
In a medical malpractice case the question posed is phrased differently: “Did the defendant depart from good and accepted medical care?”
After every question and answer, there are instructions for what the jury must do next in the sequence of answering questions to determine liability and whether the injuries are directly related to the wrongdoing.
For example, in a medical malpractice case there may be a factual question that needs to be answered first. Let's say the claim involves a failure to diagnose cancer. “The plaintiff, John (injured victim), claims that Dr. Jones failed to timely diagnose his cancer. Did Dr. Jones tell the patient that he had cancer?
If the answer is no, then you must answer the next question. “Was the failure to communicate that information a departure from good and accepted medical care?”
The jury will then continue to answer all the questions until they reach a final decision. Typically, they must answer three basic questions:
- Was the defendant negligent?
- Was the defendant's negligence a substantial factor in causing injury?
- How much do you award to the injured victim?
There are many variations and multiple sub-questions that must be answered depending upon the type of accident case or medical practice case. If the jury finds there is no wrongdoing or negligence, they are told to stop what they are doing and return to the courtroom with their verdict.
In many cases the jury is presented with multiple alternative claims they must evaluate. This often happens in medical malpractice cases where there are multiple theories that can lead to liability and an award of damages.
Many people question how many jurors are needed to answer each individual question. In the Supreme Court of the state of New York, which is the civil trial system, civil juries are made up of six main jurors. Of those six jurors who go back to liberate, only five are needed to answer any one question.
The same five jurors need not answer each question. They can be different jurors. If the jurors are divided 4-2, they must continue to deliberate to reach a conclusion. There must be a minimum five jurors to answer a question either yes or no.
After the jury has come up with answers to each of the questions, they must return to the court with the answers written on the verdict sheet and each juror must initial and sign the verdict sheet.
The litigants will then return to the courtroom and the judge will ask the foreperson to read the answers to each question in order that they can be recorded in the permanent trial transcript. The verdict sheet then becomes a permanent exhibit for that case.
Why do you need to know this information?
To give you an insight and understanding into how the litigation process works here in New York. Most consumers and readers don't have a true understanding of the details that occurr during the course of negligence cases, accident cases or medical malpractice cases here in New York.
To learn more about how lawsuits work in New York, you are welcome to explore my educational website which has hundreds of videos, hundreds of FAQs and answers, four free books you can download and much more.
Gerry Oginski, Esq.
NY Medical Malpractice & Accident Trial Attorney