Whom to Believe?
In a medical malpractice trial or for that matter any personal injury trial, the two sides will have opposing views. If the plaintiff’s expert witness says something, it is at once contradicted by the defense’s witness and so on. In such a situation, how does the jury know whom to believe?
In every case, whether it is a medical malpractice case, accident case, or even wrongful death case, there is a dispute between the two sides. One side will say one thing and the other side will stand in front of the angle taken and either avoid or deflect it. There is always a legal dispute, and each side will bring in their own witnesses to support their side of their story or their claim.
Now, the jury is faced with listening to two totally opposing versions of what happened and who is responsible. How does the jury actually decide whom to believe?
Past Experience is a Wonderful Guide
The answer is simpler than you think. Let us look at this by giving an example. Suppose you are meeting someone for the very first time at a party, and you begin talking to them. During the first few moments of this conversation, you form in your own mind an opinion whether this person is credible or believable. Whatever they are saying, does it make sense? You know from your past experiences, or own personal circumstances, whether you can immediately trust this person or whether you should be on guard in terms of what you say. You form an opinion whether the person is trustworthy or not.
It is the same thing at trial. In fact, the whole point of a trial is to establish credibility. It is to establish whether what you are saying is more likely true than not true. At the end of the trial, the judge will in fact tell the jury that they have to evaluate the credibility of both sides. On top of this, the judge will explain to the jury that if they feel that what you have claimed sounds more likely true than not true, then they should pass judgment in your favor.
How do you evaluate whether someone is telling the truth? You have to use your own acumen and logic. The jury does the same. They will see if the person is contradicting something that he has said during the pretrial testimony. Is there something that is just not believable about their story? Is there a testimony that an expert is giving that makes no sense whatsoever? Does the witness make sense? Is he believable? Is he credible?
Falsus in Uno
The judge will give an important instruction to the jury at the end of the case, before they go to deliberate. It is called Falsus in Uno, which is a Latin term. It says that if you find that a witness has testified falsely about one thing, you can disregard all of their testimony should you choose to do so. This can be devastating since the entire testimony can be disregarded by the jury even if only one point in it seems false or not credible. This makes either side focus on being consistent.