The Verdict is not a typical over the rung court room thriller. The movie deals with moral code of a lawyer, more than it deals with the law.
Movie: The Verdict
Starring: Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden, James Mason
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Year of Release: 1982
The opening sequence shows Frank Galvil (Paul Newman), a lawyer who has had various problems over the years – a lost job, a messy divorce, a disbarment hearing and all of them traceable in one way or another to his alcoholism. The opening sequence is wonderfully shot and does a wonderful work of cementing the character Frank. He is shown drinking a beer and playing pinball in a bar in early hours of the morning.
Thereafter, he goes to funeral homes parading as a friend of the deceased and offering “Legal assistance” to the widow or to the offspring in case there was any medical negligence. He does this to make ends meet. He makes a guest appearance in his own office and spends the rest of his time drinking in the bar and making small talks with fellow alcoholics.
He is thrown a case once in a while by his former partner/friend, Mickey Morrissey (Jack Warden). For the last four years he has done only three cases and has lost all of them due to his drinking problem. Mickey forwards Frank a medical malpractice case where it is secured that the Defendant will reconcile/settle for a large amount. The case involves a young woman who was given a knock-out anesthetic during childbirth, after which she choked on her own vomit and was deprived of oxygen for a number of minutes. The baby died and the young woman is now in the state of coma, on a respirator. The settlement is important for the sister and brother – in – law, as they need the money for the end of the life care for their beloved sister.
In a beautifully shot scene, Frank visits the young woman in the hospital and is taking photos of her in the comatose state.
He suddenly sits down and with a pained look on her face realizes that he is her lawyer and more than the compensation, he is duty bound to get her truth and justice.
Frank is shown sitting in front of the young girl. When on being asked by a passing nurse who is he, he says one sentence which is intended to have more than one meaning. He with tears in his eyes and pain in his soul is able to only muster four words “I am her Attorney”.
It reflects that people who cannot come to represent themselves in a court, are at the mercy of their lawyer. This anxiety and the inner scream is what all young lawyers go through at one point. No one who has ever been seriously in a similar moral dilemma or needed to lie to get their way will fail to recognize the moment. It is the key to Frank’s character in “The Verdict” a movie about a drinking alcoholic who tries to pull himself together for one last step at salvaging his self-esteem.
The Defendant is a Catholic hospital in Boston. The deal before Frank is simple. He can expect to settle out of court and pocket a third of the settlement – enough to drink on for what little future he has. He is offered a fairly substantial amount of USD 210,000/- by the Archdiocese of Boston. Frank declines the offer as he is afraid that this may be his final chance to do something right as a lawyer. He believes that taking the handout would be unethical and truth as to the medical negligence of the Defendant will never come to light.
The Legal battle ensues and while the young girl in the coma is represented by Frank, the Catholic hospital engages Ed Concannon (James Mason), a high priced attorney who has under him a large legal team, press and everyone who was in the operating room to testify that there was no negligence.
The film unfolds at a beautiful pace and keeps you intrigued.
Now, if you are expecting a thriller- Court room drama that is not the theme in this case. Paul Newman and Sidney Lumet seem to go for something more. It is more of a character study of a lawyer fighting the law, an ace legal firm and most importantly his own battles rather than a crime thriller. The movie is more about the life of a lawyer and his trial and tribulations and what principles he has to lose and how many he chooses to redeem. The screenplay by David Mamet is well written and execution by Sidney Lumet is impeccable. There are well placed supporting actors and framework which leads the crescendo building up to the last explosive court room scene.
However, in the end, it is the medical negligence aspect, which shows that a small error on the part of the doctor could lead to ending of two lives. All one person has to do is be diligent in their medical practice and not to treat the patients as customers and clients. The movie de-structures the medical profession from a legal point of view.
The performance of Paul Newman stays with you and you realize that Frank Gavlin could not have been portrayed by anyone better. A down on his luck lawyer, who has an urgent need for money to feed his alcoholic habits stands up for a girl he has never known. He feels for her and goes against his primal instinct, the law and the girls own family. He stakes it all, and for what? Just to do the right thing, Yes. But the question is: Would you as a lawyer ever do the same?
A young Bruce Willis and Tobin Bell played extras in this movie and were not even credited for it and can be seen in the final court room scene comprising of the people sitting in the court.
For Medical negligence to be established, it is pertinent to first be able to prove the essentials of negligence (i) Legal duty to take care (ii) Breach of that duty and (iii) Consequential damage. In the landmark Bolam case it was held that:
“In the ordinary case which does not involve any special skill, negligence in law means a failure to do some act which a reasonable man in the circumstances would do, or the doing of some act which a reasonable man in the circumstances would not do; and if that failure or the doing of that act results in injury, then there is a cause of action.”
Negligence by a reasonable man and Professional is clearly laid down in the Bolam case:
“But where you get a situation which involves the use of some special skill or competence, then the test as to whether there has been negligence or not is not the test of the man on the top of a Clapham omnibus, because he has not got this special skill. The test is the standard of the ordinary skilled man exercising and professing to have that special skill. A man need not possess the highest expert skill; it is well established law that it is sufficient if he exercises the ordinary skill of an ordinary competent man exercising that particular art.”
Jacob Mathew case ((2005) 6 SCC 1) clearly laid down the details of what is meaning of Medical negligence by Medical Professionals:
“Negligence in the context of medical profession necessarily calls for a treatment with a difference. To infer rashness or negligence on the part of a professional, in particular a doctor, additional considerations apply. A case of occupational negligence is different from one of professional negligence. A simple lack of care, an error of judgment or an accident, is not proof of negligence on the part of a medical professional. So long as a doctor follows a practice acceptable to the medical profession of that day, he cannot be held liable for negligence merely because a better alternative course or method of treatment was also available or simply because a more skilled doctor would not have chosen to follow or resort to that practice or procedure which the accused followed. When it comes to the failure of taking precautions what has to be seen is whether those precautions were taken which the ordinary experience of men has found to be sufficient; a failure to use special or extraordinary precautions which might have prevented the particular happening cannot be the standard for judging the alleged negligence. So also, the standard of care, while assessing the practice as adopted, is judged in the light of knowledge available at the time of the incident, and not at the date of trial. Similarly, when the charge of negligence arises out of failure to use some particular equipment, the charge would fail if the equipment was not generally available at that particular time (that is, the time of the incident) at which it is suggested it should have been used.”
The Delhi High Court has laid down the degrees of Negligence in Smt. Madhubala vs. Government of NCT of Delhi; Delhi High Court, 8 April 2005:
(i) lata culpa, gross neglect
(ii) levis culpa, ordinary neglect, and
(iii) levissima culpa, slight neglect.
Every act of negligence by the doctor shall not attract punishment. Slight neglect will surely not be punishable and ordinary neglect, as the name suggests, is also not to be punished. If we club these two, we get two categories: negligence for which the doctor shall be liable and that negligence for which the doctor shall not be liable. In most of the cases, the dividing line shall be quite clear. However, the problem arises in those cases where the dividing line is thin. In all such cases, we fall back upon the test laid down in Bolam case and which has been upheld.
In V. Kishan Rao v. Nikhil Super Specialty Hospital; (2010) 5 SCC 513, the Supreme Court overturned the decision in Martin F. D’Souza v. Mohd. Ishfaq; (2009) 3 SCC 1 which laid down that a person aggrieved by a medical negligence of a doctor need not get the approval of a medical practitioner to issue a notice to the concerned doctor or hospital.
All provisions of Consumer Protection Act, 1986
Indian Penal Code, 1860
Section 304A – Causing death by negligence – Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
Section 80 – Accident in doing a lawful Act – Nothing is an offence which is done by accident or misfortune, and without any criminal intention or knowledge in the doing of a lawful act in a lawful manner by lawful means and with proper care and caution.
Section 88 – Act not unintended to cause death, done by consent in good faith for person’s benefit – Nothing, which is not intended to cause death, is an offence by reason of any harm which it may cause, or be intended by the doer to cause, or be known by the doer to be likely to cause, to any person for whose benefit it is done in good faith, and who has given a consent, whether express or implied, to suffer that harm, or to take the risk of that harm.
Author: Govind K. Chaturvedi
Editor: Ankit Rastogi