Inside a med-mal case: My brief stint as juror 22

July 18, 2019

"Based on their lines of questioning, it was apparent the defendant’s attorney wanted me to sit on the jury and the plaintiff’s attorney did not," writes Urology Times Content Channel Director Richard R. Kerr.

I recently spent a few days at the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in downtown Cleveland as a juror in a medical malpractice case. The experience, while brief, was enlightening.

Jury duty is a tremendous honor. For U.S. citizens, it’s a public service that’s been compared to voting and even military service. As those who have served on a jury know, it can also be tedious and, at times, stressful.

I was the last of 22 jurors chosen for this case-a wrongful death claim against a large hospital system. The plaintiff was the widow of a patient who had died while under the care of a pulmonologist at the hospital. As voir dire-the process of questioning prospective jurors-proceeded, details about our work and private lives unfolded. Some revelations raised a few eyebrows, including what I did as editor of Urology Times.

One juror lived three doors down from the defendant physician (he was excused). Another juror was a college classmate of an attorney on the defense team (excused). A third lost her stepfather in a plane crash and noted that her family was very well compensated by the airline, a comment that drew several follow-up questions from both attorneys (retained).

Also see: Why physician testimony is so important

The time and effort spent on voir dire was extensive-nearly 3 full days-and involved the judge and both the plaintiff and defense attorney. In addition to personal and work-related questions, jurors were asked about their experience with the defendant hospital system, handoff of a patient from one health care provider to another, and whether they had signed an electronic signature pad in a hospital or doctor’s office.

My job as a medical editor prompted a few questions. I was asked about my knowledge of standard of care and peer review, any working relationship I had with the hospital system, and whether I could be impartial on this case. Based on their lines of questioning, it was apparent the defendant’s attorney wanted me to sit on the jury and the plaintiff’s attorney did not. I’m no mind reader, but my assumption was that the defense favored an individual with some knowledge of medicine and a working relationship with his client, and the plaintiff felt my admission that I occasionally reached out to the defendant hospital’s clinicians for manuscripts rendered me biased.

In the end, I did not make it past the voir dire phase. I was dismissed. Like my fellow jurors, I was not given a reason. But I left with a firsthand education about malpractice litigation and its lengthy, intricate process of jury selection.