If you attend the plaintiff’s deposition, you will have the firsthand ability to hear that person’s story, and you then have the ability to suggest areas where your lawyer can challenge the plaintiff’s recollection. If you attend the opposing expert’s deposition, you similarly have the ability to hear that person’s criticisms, and you can suggest areas where your lawyer can challenge the factual or medical basis for the opinions.
6) Demonstrate: Contrary to television depictions, a trial can be a long and boring process, particularly when there’s nothing to capture the jury’s attention. Jurors have a hard time following a witness’s testimony when it consists solely of questions and answers.
This problem can be compounded when the testimony consists of technical medical information. To prevent boredom and inattention, we want to engage the jurors—and you can help us do it. Give us props, whether in the form of anatomic models, instruments used during the procedure, photographs, charts, or animations that will allow us to capture the jury’s imagination.
7) Communicate: Lawyers and doctors work in different environments. For example, you have the ability to order a test and receive the results within hours, but lawyers generally have weeks to respond to an opposing party’s requests for information. Doctors often receive results that are quantifiable and measurable—but ambiguity and nuance are a lawyer’s stock in trade.
You will be frustrated as you go through the litigation, and you need to have clear and open channels of communication with your lawyer.
Just as your patients depend upon you to orient them within an unfamiliar and frightening environment, your lawyer should help you understand what’s happening in your case. If you don’t have enough information to make intelligent decisions, you should ask for more.
8) Trust: While it’s vital to engage in the process and understand how the lawsuit is proceeding, you need to remember you are not a lawyer. There will be times when your lawyer will have to make judgment calls, and you need to give your lawyer the ability to make those decisions.
Please don’t misunderstand: You have a right to make informed decisions, but a lawyer will make hundreds of judgment calls in the course of a trial, such as whether to dismiss a potential juror, pursue a certain line of questioning with a witness, or introduce a particular exhibit. Some of your lawyer’s recommendations may seem counterintuitive to you, but the courtroom is our operating room.
9) Defend: Most jurors come to the courtroom with some skepticism of medical malpractice claims. One of the reasons for this skepticism is jurors generally like their own physicians and want to believe the medical system functions properly. When they hear a plaintiff’s claim that they were injured through medical negligence, they want the physicians involved in the care to explain how the injury occurred and why it wasn’t the physicians’ fault.
You need to be able to stand up, look the jurors in the eye, explain that your care was appropriate, and withstand an attorney’s attempts to impeach your credibility. If you are unwilling to stand up and fight for yourself and your care, there’s little reason to expect the jurors will fight on your behalf once they begin their deliberations.