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A civil jury trial

Aug 30th, 2010 | By | Category: Alert

My second week in Iowa has been spent watching a medical negligence trial, which raised questions about health and food consumption; two issues which do not seem to sit happily with one another in America.

The first thing that struck me about the court proceedings was the fact that a jury would be deciding the case. The second shock to the system came during the process of empanelling the jury, which took virtually the whole day and allowed for detailed questioning of jurors by Counsel. The case was about a formerly morbidly obese man who claimed that a doctor has negligently performed a gastric bypass on him, and that the negligence was clear because he had failed to lose weight until the surgery was re-done by another doctor. Bearing this in mind, the jurors were asked such questions as, “Have you ever sued a doctor?” and “Do you hold a grudge against obese people?”. I found it startling that the lawyers could test out their case on jurors. This is all performed in the guise that it reduces potential prejudice of jurors, but in reality each side are in fact encouraging  prejudice amongst a jury; as long as it favours their side.

Watching the evidence unfold did not present many stark differences to the system in the UK, apart from the fact that the attorneys can walk around and use props to demonstrate their arguments. For example, the attorneys used large diagrams to explain the technicalities of the treatment. Although much of the formality of the occasion seemed to be lost, the practicality of presenting evidence in a more accessible way, and not overburdening a jury with hefty bundles and reams of paper is something which is lacking in the English courts. All in all, it was a very interesting way to spend the week.

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