First Circuit Court of Appeals Reviews Jury Award in Medical Malpractice Action for Birth Defects

Many personal injury suits in Massachusetts are filed within the Commonwealth’s court system. Some lawsuits end up in federal court if a violation of a federal law or regulation occurs, or if one or more of the parties involved in litigation reside or conduct business in another state. The injured party would likely argue that his or her state is the most appropriate place for the litigation to unfold. Federal District Court cases from Massachusetts are heard in the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which also includes the district courts of Maine, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island. Any published decisions from the First Circuit are binding and instructive on similar matters arising from any and all districts.

A recent case arising from the District of Puerto Rico, Rosa-Rivera v. Dorado Health, Inc. (No. 13-1328) reviewed a jury award to an injured baby and his parents, after he received negligent care in the hospital by the doctors and staff. In this case, the parents, acting on their own behalf and on behalf of their son, alleged that the hospital and the obstetricians who delivered him were negligent and caused him to suffer trauma, shoulder dystocia, and ultimately paralysis of the arm. The parents took the matter to trial, and the jury found both the defendant doctors to be negligent, but only one was responsible for causing the injuries. The jury awarded the family $807,500. Dissatisfied with the verdict, the family sought a new trial but was denied by the district court. The family alleged several procedural errors during the trial to the district and circuit courts, but they were denied a new trial in both courts. The family argued that the trial judge erred in not allowing their attorney to ask a nurse at the defendant hospital leading questions. They also claimed that the judge should have used one of the proposed jury instructions offered by their attorney and that the jury gave an inconsistent verdict.

In a jury trial, the court hands the jury instructions on what is to be considered when rendering a verdict. All parties often provide a copy of instructions that cover the law they feel applies to the trial. The family provided instructions that would have advised the jury of the hospital’s duty to carefully select and monitor the physicians they have chosen to hire. The trial court judge excluded this instruction, determining that the matter was covered by other instructions that advised about the duty that hospitals and physicians are under to offer patients the attention their condition needs, as recognized by the modern medical community. The circuit court partially agreed with the plaintiffs that the instructions offered were not the same as the instructions given, but it ultimately ruled that there was not plain error by the trial court when it excluded the suggested instruction given by the family.

The appellate court also felt that the jury verdict was not inconsistent. In all personal injury cases, a fact-finder must determine whether the defendant owed a duty to the injured party, whether the defendant failed in this duty (or was negligent), and whether this failure caused the injury. The jury felt the defendant physicians were negligent, but negligence by only one of the doctors caused the injury. The circuit court felt that this satisfied the reasoning set up by case precedence to determine liability, and it affirmed the trial verdict and the lower court’s ruling.

Maximizing the damages you deserve is often a difficult task. The Massachusetts personal injury attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the experience you need to determine the best course to take to fully negotiate and litigate your case. We understand every penny helps when faced with cumbersome injuries. To discuss your case, contact our office for a free, confidential consultation at 508.822.6600.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Supreme Court Keeps Premises Liability Case Law Favorable for Injured Individuals, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, May 26, 2015
The Path to Damages after a Massachusetts Car Accident Can be a Complex, Winding One, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, May 22, 2015