June 10, 2022

A Florida medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit alleged that the defendant physician performed an unnecessary medical procedure that led to the patient’s death. The Florida medical malpractice wrongful death jury awarded $4,086,004.46, which included $1,000,000 in non-economic damages for the surviving wife and $2,500,000 in non-economic damages for the surviving daughter.

On appeal, the District Court of Appeal of the State of Florida Fourth District (“Florida Appellate Court”) stated, “As to damages, Dr. Vedere contends that the trial court erred in allowing the survivors’ life expectancies into evidence where they extended beyond that of the decedent, as well as arguing to the jury, over objection, that it may consider the considerably longer life of the surviving daughter in awarding damages. We agree that based upon the supreme court’s determination that a surviving minor’s non-economic damages for the wrongful death of a decedent are awardable from the date of the injury to the time the decedent would normally have expected to die, the court erred in overruling the objection to the closing argument, which we cannot deem harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“The court erred in overruling counsel’s objection and by allowing counsel to suggest to the jury that it should consider the daughter’s entire life expectancy in awarding pain and suffering damages to the daughter. Although the trial court instructed the jury that it may consider the joint life expectancy of the surviving daughter and the decedent, that instruction was given before closing argument. Because defense counsel’s objection to the improper argument was overruled, the jury could have believed that consideration of daughter’s entire life expectancy would be appropriate … The surviving daughter was awarded greater damages than the surviving spouse, even though their awards should have been similarly limited to their joint life expectancy with the decedent, which was either ten or twelve years.”

“Although Dr. Vedere also argues that it was error to admit the mortality tables showing the life expectancy of decedent’s wife, we conclude that it was not error to admit the tables as to the surviving spouse, particularly because these tables were not used in closing argument to request greater damages from the jury than Meeks authorizes … As to the surviving spouse, the evidence was relevant, and on this record we cannot say it was prejudicial.”

The Florida Appellate Court held: “We thus reverse the award of non-economic damages for the surviving daughter. We agree with the Estate, however, that a new trial should be limited to determining the daughter’s non-economic damages. Because it is undisputed that the daughter’s life expectancy exceeds the life expectancy of the decedent, in any new trial, the mortality tables should be limited to the life expectancy of the decedent.”

The Florida Appellate Court further held: “we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence and argument concerning financial arrangements which Dr. Vedere had with the manufacturer of the device. While motive is not an element of a cause of action for malpractice, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining motive was relevant under the facts of this case as to the claim of negligence in the doctor’s recommendation of the PCI procedure. This evidence also tended to rebut the doctor’s claim that his procedure was “based solely on sound medical consideration.””

Source Healthcare Underwriters Group, Inc. v. Sanford, Nos. 4D20-2023 and 4D20-2026.

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