Case Law Alerts
Case illustrates the issue of damages is an indispensable element of a trial.
In this medical malpractice action against a hospital, a physician and physicians’ group, the plaintiff patient alleged post-operative complications and suffering as a result of the physician negligently piercing the patient’s bowel during surgery.
Following a jury trial in favor of the patient, the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County granted the patient’s post-trial motion seeking a new trial solely on the issue of damages. The defendants appealed. Before trial, the defendants filed several motions in limine, seeking to preclude evidence of the plaintiff’s wage loss claim and evidence of future medical expenses. The trial court granted the motions in limine as unopposed. Accordingly, the relevant issues for trial were: (1) liability based on the physician’s negligence; (2) causation; (3) compensatory damages limited to the plaintiff’s medical expenses, which were stipulated to by her counsel as $39,000.00; and (4) the plaintiff’s pain and suffering. The case proceeded to a jury trial.
At the close of trial, the defendants moved for compulsory non-suit, which the trial court denied.
After deliberations, the jury determined that the physician acted negligently in performing the plaintiff’s abdominal surgery and awarded the plaintiff past medical expenses of $39,000.00. However, the jury declined to award the plaintiff’s non-economic damages for pain and suffering.
A post-trial motion was filed seeking a new trial on damages. On appeal, the court explained that liability in a medical malpractice action was fairly determined and was not intertwined with the issue of damages, supporting a new trial limited to issue of damages. The court reasoned that there was evidence showing that the patient suffered post-operative injuries and that such injuries caused pain and suffering, as well as the inability to enjoy the pleasures of life. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting a new trial on damages.
The case is significant in that it illustrates that the issue of damages is an indispensable element of a trial, and counsel must ensure that there is sufficient evidence addressing the issue of evidence or a new trial may be granted limited solely to the issue of damages.
Case Law Alerts, 3rd Quarter, July 2021 is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. Copyright © 2021 Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, all rights reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm.