Massachusetts Court Discusses Elements of Gross Negligence in a Medical Malpractice Case

Typically, a plaintiff in a Massachusetts medical malpractice lawsuit will assert a negligence claim against the defendant, but in cases in which the defendants’ acts were especially egregious, the defendant may not only be held liable for negligence, but also for gross negligence. In a recent Massachusetts case in which the defendant doctor appealed the trial court verdict, the appellate court discussed the factors weighed in determining if a defendant’s actions constitute gross negligence. If you were harmed by a negligent healthcare provider, it is advisable to consult an attorney regarding what claims you may be able to pursue.

Factual and Procedural History

It is reported that the plaintiff’s decedent underwent a surgical repair of a hiatal hernia that was performed by the defendant. During the procedure, the defendant used tacks to attach the mesh to the decedent’s diaphragm. The warning materials for the tacks indicated they should not be used in certain areas of the body, such as near the pericardium. Following the surgery, the decedent began to experience cardiac symptoms and ultimately died due to cardiac arrest.

Allegedly, the plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant. Following a trial, a jury found in favor of the plaintiff, finding the defendant was both negligent and grossly negligent in the treatment of the decedent, and that his negligence caused the decedent’s death. The defendant appealed on the issue of whether he was grossly negligent.

Gross Negligence under Massachusetts Law

Under Massachusetts law, gross negligence is significantly greater in magnitude than ordinary negligence. In other words, it is an act or failure to act of an aggravated nature as opposed to the mere failure to exercise due care. Instead, it is a reckless and clear violation of a legal duty that was imposed to safeguard the rights of others. Evidence that indicates gross negligence includes the voluntary encounter of a known risk and continuing to engage in a demonstrably negligent course of conduct over an extended period of time.

Additionally, when an injury that is likely to arise out of a failure to act with due care is serious or fatal, acts that would otherwise normally constitute ordinary negligence may be elevated to gross negligence. In the subject case, the appellate court found that the trial court appropriately advised the jury on the issue of gross negligence. Further, the appellate court found that the jury could reasonably conclude that the defendant’s use of tacks to secure the mesh to the decedent’s diaphragm constituted gross negligence as it increased the risk the decedent would suffer grave harm. Thus, the trial court verdict was affirmed.

Discuss your Harm with a Trusted Personal Injury Attorney

If you suffered injuries or the loss of a loved one due to negligent medical care, it is crucial to speak to an attorney to assess what compensation you may be owed from the provider that caused your harm. The trusted personal injury attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan possess the skills and resources needed to help you seek a just outcome and we will diligently pursue the best result available under the facts of your case. You can contact us through our online form or at 508-822-6600 to schedule a conference.