On May 25, 2012, a Bronx, New York medical malpractice jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of approximately $120 million against three local hospitals and a neurologist (the jury found one hospital to be 50% liable, another hospital to be 40% liable, the third hospital to be 5% liable, a neurologist to be 4% liable, and the patient to be 1% responsible for her own injuries). The verdict included $10 million for lost earnings (the woman had been earning less than $40,000 per year prior to the alleged medical malpractice incidents) and $5 million for past medical expenses (past medical expenses were $583,000 and were paid by Medicaid). The medical malpractice defendants have vowed to appeal the verdict.
The Underlying Factual Allegations Of Medical Malpractice
Back in 2004, the then 37-year-old woman sought medical treatment for a seizure. During the course of less than one month, the medical malpractice case claimed that the medical malpractice defendants failed to timely respond to her medical condition, failed to provide necessary medical treatment, failed to properly manage her medications, and that the woman had an allergic reaction to the anti-seizure medication she was provided that led to swelling of her face, eyes, and throat. She claimed brain damage as a result of medical malpractice.
She was subsequently diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome (Erythema multiforme is a type of hypersensitivity reaction that occurs in response to medications, infections, or illness. The exact cause is unknown but is believed to involve damage to the blood vessels of the skin, followed by damage to skin tissues. Erythema multiforme major is more severe, and is known as Stevens-Johnson syndrome, which is usually caused by reactions to medications, rather than infections, and has a high death rate. Source).
When the news media reports on large medical malpractice verdicts, it often fails to detail the underlying facts or to thoroughly describe the extent of the severe, permanent, and life-changing injuries and losses suffered by the medical malpractice victims. Without knowing such specific information, the public is often left with the impression that the medical malpractice jury’s verdict was excessive and unjustified, and provides fuel for medical malpractice tort-reformers’ argument that the verdict was excessive and unwarranted. Many times the public’s view is unwarranted and unjustified and may have been different had the full details been reported.
However, there are medical malpractice verdicts that are excessive and unjustified under the facts presented to the juries. Sometimes (but rarely) do medical malpractice juries award run-away verdicts that are unsupported by the evidence provided to them that most people would consider unreasonable, often due to emotional responses to catastrophic injuries suffered by helpless medical malpractice victims such as babies and children. When a medical malpractice jury’s verdict is beyond reason, there is an established mechanism whereby the court (the judge) may exercise its power to reduce the jury’s verdict to what is reasonable under the circumstances or to order a new trial. However, such judicial power should be used very sparingly because much deference must be given to the jury’s decision in each case that it decides.
In the New York medical malpractice case, it appears to us that it is the type of case where the trial court may very well exercise its authority to reduce the jury’s verdict to a reasonable amount consistent with the evidence produced during the trial or order a new trial. Based on the information provided in the news, it appears to us that a verdict in the amount of $5 million for past medical expenses that were supposedly documented to be $583,000 cannot be allowed to stand and that $10 million awarded for the past earnings loss cannot be justified in light of the reported annual income in the amount of less than $40,000 per year.
But Don’t Throw The Baby Out With The Bath Water!
We cringed when we read about the New York medical malpractice verdict because we anticipate that it will be championed by those who tirelessly seek to prevent innocent victims of medical malpractice from receiving fair and full compensation for their injuries and losses as determined by unbiased and disinterested juries selected from the medical malpractice parties’ communities. Such extremely rare medical malpractice verdicts should be understood and appreciated for what they are — as aberrations and highly unusual jury results that the justice system is equipped to adequately deal with and respond to in order to avoid an injustice without causing damage to the long-respected and precious jury system in the United States that our Founding Fathers valued so much that they included the right to a jury trial as a inviolable right of all citizens of our country.
If you may be the victim of medical malpractice in New York or in another state in the U.S., you may be entitled to fair and reasonable compensation for your resulting injuries and losses. You should promptly seek the advice of a local medical malpractice attorney in order to protect your rights with regard to your medical malpractice claim.
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