The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (“Federal Appellate Court”) held in its September 15, 2021 opinion: “we conclude that the district court erred when it jumped to an issue, which the Hospital sensibly pressed only as a ground for a new trial, to short-circuit the process and enter an amended judgment striking nearly 60% of the jury’s verdict.”
The Underlying Facts
The underlying Puerto Rico medical malpractice case involved the serious permanent brain damage diagnosed in a child. The parties contested whether the brain damage was caused by medical negligence during labor and delivery, as argued by the plaintiff, or due to autism, for which the defendant hospital was not responsible, as argued by the defendants.
The Puerto Rico medical malpractice jury returned its verdict of just under $5 million, including future care costs in the amount of $3,088,968, compensating the plaintiff for the brain injury that the defendant hospital and defendant doctor negligently caused at his birth. The defendant hospital filed post-trial motions to vacate the future costs award. The district court used the post-trial motions as an opportunity to reconsider its in-trial ruling on the admissibility of the life-care-planning expert’s testimony–even though the hospital had abandoned that argument pre-verdict. Reversing course from its ruling at trial, the district court struck the testimony of the only expert on future costs, denied a new trial to the defendants, and entered an amended judgment wiping out the jury’s calculation of the future costs of care.
Federal Court Opinion
The Federal Appellate Court stated: “the scope of a Rule 50(b) motion is confined to those grounds raised in the Rule 50(a) motion. Thus, we require that the Rule 50(a) motion be “sufficiently specific so as to apprise the district court of the grounds relied on in support of the motion” … Not only did the Hospital fail to raise any discussion of Dr. Katz in a Rule 50(a) motion pre-verdict, it also did not mention his testimony in its Rule 50(b) motion post-verdict … both Rule 50 motions–pre- and post-verdict–concerned the purported lack of evidence that G.Q.S. had brain damage or that the Hospital caused his brain damage or autism. Neither motion ever once mentioned any Rule of Evidence or argued that any witness should not have testified. It is a far jump from saying there is insufficient evidence of causation to saying that a future-damages expert is inadmissible under some Rule of Evidence. The Hospital’s motion was not “sufficiently specific” to preserve the admissibility argument … we conclude that the absence of any argument in either its Rule 50(a) or Rule 50(b) motion that Dr. Katz’s testimony should be excluded renders the district court’s sua sponte tackling of the future-costs issue error.”
The Federal Appellate Court added: “the district court also clarified that the other portions of the verdict–including the Hospital’s liability for damages for physical injuries and pain and suffering–were unaffected by the amended judgment because Dr. Katz’s testimony was limited to future expenses. So, we remand to the district court for its consideration and determination of only the future-costs portion of the Hospital’s Rule 59 motion,” warning the district court “we note that we have some concerns with the district court’s reasoning in excluding Dr. Katz.”
Source Santos-Arrieta v. Hospital del Maestro, No. 19-1935.
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