The Minnesota Court of Appeals (“Minnesota Appellate Court”) held in its unpublished decision filed on May 21, 2018 that “[b]ecause no authority supports [the Minnesota medical malpractice plaintiff’s] contention that a medical malpractice defendant may not argue that the plaintiff’s condition itself caused the claimed injury, and because [the plaintiff] incurred no prejudice from the allegedly improperly admitted evidence or the allegedly improper attorney conduct, we affirm [the Minnesota medical malpractice jury’s defense verdict].”
The Minnesota medical malpractice plaintiff had sued the defendant hospital, alleging medical negligence after he suffered a seizure and stroke while being treated for symptoms associated with pancreatitis, alcohol abuse, and high blood pressure (the plaintiff had been on a nine-day, hard-liquor binge that had triggered his bout of recurrent pancreatitis). The Minnesota medical malptractice plaintiff alleged that he suffered the seizure because the hospital failed to properly monitor his blood pressure.
The defendant hospital argued that it was the plaintiff’s chronic alcohol abuse, and not its alleged medical negligence, that caused the seizure and stroke.
The Minnesota medical malpractice jury returned its verdict in favor of the defendant hospital, and the plaintiff appealed, arguing that the hospital’s causation defense was improper, that the trial court improperly allowed evidence that the plaintiff was told to stop drinking, and that the hospital’s lawyer committed misconduct.
The Minnesota Appellate Court stated that a jury should not consider a comparative negligence defense unless the plaintiff’s alleged negligence occurred after the defendant’s alleged negligence. The Minnesota Appellate Court stated that following this rule, the trial court in the present case prohibited the defendant hospital from using the term “negligence” to describe the plaintiff’s alcohol use; the trial court did not instruct the jury to consider comparative negligence as a defense; and, the trial court acted consistent with the law as it regards comparative negligence.
Defendant’s Causation Defense
The Minnesota Appellate Court stated that a medical malpractice plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s malpractice proximately caused his injury, and the defendant may therefore present evidence and argument to the contrary, establishing that something else proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury.
The Minnesota Appellate Court stated that the defendant hospital was not precluded from introducing evidence of the effects of the plaintiff’s alcohol abuse on his body, as well as expert testimony that alcohol abuse caused the seizure and stroke. Nor was it precluded from arguing that the plaintiff’s alcohol abuse and its physical consequences caused the seizure and stroke.
The Minnesota Appellate Court held that while medical malpractice defendants may not argue that a plaintiff’s apparently negligent actions occasioned the need for medical treatment (i.e., that a plaintiff’s earlier negligence, which caused him to seek medical treatment, excuses a medical provider’s later negligence in treating the plaintiff), medical malpractice defendants are not prohibited from arguing that a plaintiff’s self-induced physical condition caused the injury that the plaintiff alleges to have resulted from the defendant’s negligent care.
Advice To Stop Drinking
The plaintiff argued on appeal that evidence that the plaintiff did not follow medical advice to stop drinking was not relevant to any disputed issue and was therefore inadmissible. Minn. R. Evid. 402 (2017). The hospital argued on appeal that the plaintiff failed to say how the evidence prejudiced him.
The Minnesota Appellate Court held that “[b]ecause the [the plaintiff] offer[s] no other argument to support [his] claim that the irrelevant evidence prejudiced [his] case, we end the analysis here.”
Source Meyer v. Fairview Health Services, A17-1331.
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