It was the second week of a two-week trial. The lawyers were having a bench conference with the judge, and the Defendant doctor took a minute to check his work phone. Though quick, it did not go unnoticed by the jury.
After the trial, we had the opportunity to interview members of our jury. These “focus groups” are always enlightening and inevitably provide useful information for the next trial. We were reminded: the jury is always watching. Watching the judge, watching the lawyers, and — most importantly — watching the Defendant physician.
Although these jurors accepted that the Defendant physician saved the plaintiff’s life, they were displeased with some of his behaviors in the courtroom. Several jurors noted that he “looked at his phone” during bench conferences when they, the jury, were prohibited from doing so. They interpreted that to mean he was disinterested in the trial and had more important matters to address. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Thankfully, that observation did not affect the result of the trial, although it was eye-opening.
As we have learned from many jurors over the years, they notice “off-stage” behavior such as lawyer interactions, personal grooming (including clothing and hair styles), whether parties or lawyers “make faces,” conduct in the courthouse and surrounding areas, and now, client phone etiquette.
Although these jury observations would rarely cause one to lose a case, there is no point in risking that possibility.
Bottom Line: For healthcare professionals engaged in litigation, it is an absolute best practice to coach your doctors on demonstrating appropriate trial behavior. An annoyed smirk or checking e-mails at the counsel table may sour a juror against the defense; let’s not take that risk!
If you have any questions about trial or trial work, please contact us. We are always here to help.