Appeals Court Reviews Infant Medical Malpractice Wrongful Death Case

In a recent case (15-P-1563), the Massachusetts Appeals Court reviewed a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the estate of a deceased infant, alleging the health care providers negligently performed their duties and led to the death of the infant. The case went to trial, ending with a verdict for the defendants. The estate appealed, claiming errors in the evidentiary rulings made by the judge.  Upon review, the appellate court declined to overturn the decision, providing insight into what must be shown by an injured party to successfully pursue a wrongful death action.

The central question in this medical malpractice case was whether or not the providers were negligent by failing to recognize the baby’s heart monitor tracings were too slow, requiring a cesarean section. The defendants argued at trial that the tracings indicated a reassuring heart rate and that the cesarean was performed when the dilation failed to progress beyond nine centimeters. The estate pointed to the missing original, contemporaneous paper tracings, arguing that the copies in evidence did not have any handwritten notations of the defendants, so it was difficult to tell whether the doctors noted a reassuring or non-reassuring heart rate during the mother’s labor. The estate argued that the post-delivery care provider notations referred to a non-reassuring fetal heart rate as the reason for the c-section. The defendants countered that the notations could have been post-delivery assumptions, based on the near-lifeless state of the child upon delivery.

The estate entered into evidence copies of the post-delivery medical providers but did not call any of them as witnesses during trial. The defendants argued the lack of witnesses necessitated a missing witness instruction, which the trial judge denied. However, at argument, the defendants asserted that the estate did not present evidence that the post-delivery care providers actually examined the records of the heart tracings made at the time of delivery. The estate felt the judge allowed this argument in error and made it a focal point of the appeal.

The Appeals Court ruled that the judge did not abuse her discretion. The court felt she fairly balanced the interests of both parties by denying the defendants’ request for a missing witness instruction and allowing a closing argument addressing the tracings by the defendants. The court noted that the parties to a case are permitted to draw attention to facts that can have more than one interpretation. The appellate court ultimately affirmed the jury verdict favoring the defendants, finding no abuse of discretion or bias by the trial judge on this and the other issues appealed.

The Massachusetts personal injury attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the experience you need to assist you with your wrongful death lawsuit. Our lawyers understand that a thorough investigation and presentation of evidence can help maximize the damages that you and your family need and deserve. Call today for a free, confidential consultation at 508-822-6600.

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