Appeals Court Upholds Jury Verdict Finding Doctor Did Not Commit ‘Inexcusable’ Delay

A woman who suffered a neurological injury as a result of complications from knee replacement surgery saw her judgment and damages award wiped out on appeal recently. The woman had received an unfavorable jury verdict in her malpractice action against her doctor, but the trial judge in the case had ruled in her favor and awarded damages. The Louisiana Court of Appeal, however, ruled that both sides had enough credible evidence to support their positions, and, based on that, a jury verdict in favor of the doctor was not patently unreasonable and should have been allowed to stand.

The ill-fated procedure was Margaree Haney’s left knee replacement surgery, performed at Baton Rouge Surgical Hospital. After completing the procedure, Haney’s doctor, Janet Lewis, attempted to detect a pulse in the patient’s left foot but could not find one. After consulting with a vascular surgeon, Lewis transferred Haney to Baton Rouge General Medical Center. Eight hours after the first surgery, Haney underwent a second procedure to repair a damaged artery. Because of the time that elapsed between the two procedures, the patient suffered “foot drop,” a permanent neurological injury marked by the inability to lift the front of one’s foot.

Haney sued Lewis for malpractice, contending that the doctor failed to act quickly enough once a problem with the artery was detected. After a three-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the doctor. The patient asked the judge to issue a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (or JNOV) in her favor. The judge agreed, determining that the delay in correcting the problem was “inexcusable under the circumstances.” The judge awarded the patient $678,000 in damages.

The doctor appealed, and the appeals court sided with her. The appeals court explained that judges should issue judgments overturning jury verdicts only in rare circumstances. Even if a wealth of evidence exists that favors the party requesting a JNOV, that is not enough to warrant throwing out the jury’s conclusion. Only if “the evidence points so strongly in favor of the moving party that reasonable persons could not reach different conclusions” should a court issue a JNOV.

In Haney’s case, the doctor provided proof that she discovered the problem, addressed the problem, and began completing the paperwork to facilitate Haney’s transfer to Baton Rouge General promptly. However, it took more than four hours for the second hospital to clear a space for her and for the transportation to be completed, and another two hours for the second surgery to begin. One expert doctor testified that Lewis could not have expedited the process any more than she did, short of “putting [Mrs. Haney] in her own car and taking her over there.” The appeals court noted that no expert testified that Lewis’ actions were unnecessarily or avoidably delayed.

In the end, both sides had ample evidence supporting their positions. However, given the evidence that the doctor presented showing that she acted as quickly as possible and expedited every step over which she had control, a reasonable jury could have concluded that the doctor did not breach her duty of care to Haney. Since the jury’s verdict was not blatantly out of line, the trial judge overstepped in throwing it out and granting a judgment in favor of the patient.

Medical malpractice cases require careful attention to a variety of details and diligent effort in corralling the evidence needed, including expert testimony, to present a successful case. To put an experienced and knowledgeable Louisiana attorney to work on your malpractice action, contact the Louisiana injury attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm right away. Our attorneys can help you pursue the recovery you deserve.

For your confidential consultation, contact us online or phone Cardone at 504-522-3333.

More blogs:

Appeals Court Revives Malpractice Case Stemming from Wrongful Sinus Infection Diagnosis, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, May 27, 2014
Appeals Court Upholds Judgment Against Pediatrician, But Tosses Case Against Hospital in Infant Malpractice Case, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, March 26, 2014

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