Articles Posted in Jury Verdicts

Medical malpractice cases frequently stem from the delivery room.  Improper delivery of a baby can result in long term permanent injury to the newborn and catastrophic damages to the family.  For example, cerebral palsy is quite often a result of medical negligence.  This week, however, another story came out from Alabama.  The Court has upheld a $16 million dollar jury award to a woman for her traumatic birth experience.  What makes this case a bit unique is that the damages were exclusively to the mother, the baby was ultimately fine, and includes considerable compensation for the psychological stresses she endured during a horrible delivery.

In this case, the woman was expecting her fourth child.  A pro at child birth, she and her husband decided they wanted to do things a little differently and attempt a more “natural” child birth experience at a clinic in Alabama specializing in such deliveries.  Natural birth clinics lure mothers to be with promises of cushy suites, a personalized birth plan, autonomy, etc.  A nice picture compared to the usual epidural, feet in stirrups and army of nurses at the bedside.  Or so she thought.  Instead, this poor woman endured a hellish delivery which included being held to the bed against her will and nurses forcing the baby to stay inside her womb for over six minutes while they waited for the doctor to finally arrive and deliver the child.  She suffered trauma to her sexual organs and along with these physically injuries has been emotionally traumatized.  She experiences frequent panic attacks and has lost her sex life with her husband.  The entire family has suffered.  There was evidence of medical malpractice not just in the awful delivery and attempt to hold the baby inside her for several minutes, but the jury also recognized the “bait and switch” in that the woman was promised a peaceful and positive birth experience and was instead physically assaulted and abused.

This case was framed around an emerging concept of “obstetric violence”.  This term includes anything from a condescending tone from doctors to being forced into unwanted medical procedures such as cesarean sections or episiotomy.  It will be very interesting to follow cases like this in the near future as doctors will have to weigh the considerations of the mother and her body much more carefully before making medical decision.  Certainly, I believe the courts will always side with a doctor if the mother or child are in danger during pregnancy and they decide to have a C-section, but will the Courts side with doctors when there is not such a medical emergency and they make a quick decision to operate? Will more cases come up charging doctors and nurses with verbal or physical trauma if they are not attentive enough to the mothers needs or otherwise physically aggressive.

Missouri was one of many States that impose caps on noneconomic damages (i.e. pain and suffering) in personal injury cases, specifically medical malpractice. In Missouri, an injured person could receive no more than $350,000 above his or her economic losses (medical expenses and lost wages). While that may seem like a great deal of money, it is very little to someone catastrophically injured by another’s negligence. For a simple example, consider a medical malpractice case where the doctor amputates the wrong leg (think it can’t happen – look here). That person will spend the rest of his or her life in a wheelchair and would legally be unable to recover more than $350,000 in damages!

Yesterday, the Missouri Supreme Court in Watts v. Cox Medical Center, ruled that the cap on damages was an unconstitutional infringement of ones right to a trial by jury. The Federal Constitution (mirrored by the States) guarantees the right of anyone with cause to have a trial decided by a jury of his peers. It should always be the jury who decides the outcome of a case including the damages, and not lawmakers influenced by insurance companies.

It has long been an argument of the plaintiff’s bar and American Association for Justice that caps on tort awards were unconstitutional, and this Supreme Court decision affirms our position. Hopefully, this decision will influence other States to make the same decision which they should agree is constitutionally mandated. This decision should also strike a blow for the tort reform movement (although this election campaign has not brought up the topic of tort reform nearly as much as four years ago). Numerous studies, including those conducted by independent groups with no stake in the tort reform debate, have shown that medical caps and restrictions on personal injury claims do not reduce health care costs and lead to lower quality patient care.

The Providence Journal is reporting that the jury charged with deciding the fate of patrolman, Marcus Huffman, has today returned a guilty verdict in a case many of us have been following in the news. Officer Huffman was standing trial for the alleged rape of a 19 year old woman, that was committed on May 17, 2007 while he was on-duty.

The victim reported that she was offered a ride home from Huffman after she was turned away from a night club for being too intoxicated. Huffman took the victim to an empty police substation where she was raped in the bathroom. The victim, in and out of consciousness, awoke to find her clothes undone. She managed to walk to a nearby Aunt’s house.

She admitted that she was so drunk that she did not remember details of the event. This, of course, made the job much more difficult for the prosecution. She was adamant, however, that she never gave Officer Huffman any indication that she was interested in him sexually. In fact, the victim identifies herself as a lesbian.

An Oregon man, Mr. Matthew Beale, has been awarded the sizable sum in a product liability suit against Kimberly-Clark which owns the company, I-Flow Corp. According to the lawsuit, I-Flow encouraged surgeons to insert a “pain pump” which supplies pain medication via a catheter to the affected area.

A jury has found that this pain pump is responsible for destroying the cartilage in Mr. Matthew Beale’s right shoulder leaving the thirty-eight year old father of four permanently disabled. The story began in 2004 when Mr. Beale picked up a muscle injury playing football with his kids. He underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair the muscle at which time the surgeon also inserted the pain pump into the shoulder joint where it delivered medicine for several days. Mr. Beale began to recover but after six months found himself in excruciating pain. Mr. Beale now suffers from a condition called chondrolysis which is a severe deterioration of cartilage. Essentially, his shoulder cartilage has been eaten away leaving “bone on bone” friction.

In November, after hearing of many chondrolysis cases, the FDA stated that they have never approved such devices for prolonged infusion of medicine to joints.

This case will set a tough precedent for Kimberly-Clark and I-Flow since they are currently facing hundreds of similar lawsuits from victims suffering from chondrolysis. Attorneys for the plaintiff were successful in proving that I-Flow did not conduct sufficient testing, nor did it warn of the potential dangers.

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When we think of medical malpractice cases it is natural to think of missed diagnoses, improper treatment, etc.  But a Long Island Court has upheld a medical malpractice award of $416,500 against a psychiatrist accused of sleeping with his patient whom he was treating for depression and anxiety.  The woman initially sought treatment after her child was born with cerebral palsy.  As a result of the psychiatrists abuse of trust, the woman claimed that her husband divorced her, she lost partial custody of her daughter, and her anxiety and depression skyrocketed.

The jury, interestingly, found the plaintiff 25% at fault which raises difficult legal questions.  The plaintiff argued, of course, that because of her mental state and the nature of the doctor-patient relationship, she should not be held at all responsible for the inappropriate relationship.  Justice Rebolini disagreed:

[G]iven the plaintiff’s age and experience and notwithstanding the defendant’s professional status and the nature of the parties’ relationship at its inception (doctor/patient), it remained that the plaintiff was possessed of a will of her own and was not utterly bound by defendant’s influence or choices but, rather, free to exercise her judgment and to engage in such conduct as she chose.

In response to plaintiff’s post-verdict motion, Judge Rebolini further stated:

Plaintiff was not denuded, by virtue of the physician patient relationship, of an ability to control her own conduct and to exercise her own adult judgment given the extended period of and the palpably apparent consequences of the conduct in question herein, an affair where both parties were married to others.

The defense argued that this was not a medical malpractice case at all, but rather, a claim for seduction or alienation of affection, both of which have been abolished by state law.  Rebolini reasoned that a jury could conclude that the prescription of medications could have had an impact on the plaintiff which in view of the inappropriate relationship is rightfully medical malpractice.