May 5, 2021

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania (“Pennsylvania Appellate Court”), in its opinion filed on April 16, 2021, granted a new trial to the Pennsylvania medical malpractice plaintiff in a case where the jury determined that the defendant physician acted negligently in performing the plaintiff’s abdominal surgery and awarded her past medical expenses of $39,000.00 (the stipulated amount), but did not award the plaintiff any non-economic damages for pain and suffering.

The Underlying Facts

On September 8, 2014, the plaintiff, Wanda Mazzie (“Mrs. Mazzie”), underwent laparoscopic surgery to repair an incisional hernia related to a prior hysterectomy, and an umbilical hernia. Defendant Gerardo M. Garcia, M.D. (“Dr. Garcia”) performed the surgery at Lehigh Valley Hospital—Muhlenberg (“LVHM”). Following the laparoscopic surgery, Mrs. Mazzie was discharged from LVHM and transported to Manor Care Easton on September 12, 2014. A couple of days later, however, she returned to LVHM with septic shock and was rushed to the operating room. As a result of the infection, Mrs. Mazzie was put into a medically induced coma, and underwent numerous additional surgical procedures necessary to save her life. Mrs. Mazzie alleged in her Pennsylvania medical malpractice lawsuit that she suffered post-operative complications because Dr. Garcia negligently pierced her bowel during surgery.

The trial court granted a new trial on the issue of damages only because of the jury’s failure to award Mrs. Mazzie damages for pain and suffering, stating: “Human experience teaches us that Mrs. Mazzie’s injuries are of the type that cause pain and suffering. She underwent numerous surgical procedures on her abdomen, she lost a tooth and sustained damage to her dominant hand. Moreover, noneconomic damages encompass more than just pain and suffering; they also encompass loss of ability to enjoy the pleasures of life. Unquestionably, Mrs. Mazzie was unable to enjoy any of the pleasures of life while in a six week medically induced coma . . . Thereafter, Mrs. Mazzie spent several months in rehabilitation centers relearning basic skills with her left hand and strengthening her weakened muscles. She lost her independence and had to rely on the support of family members. All of this together clearly demonstrates that there was no reasonable basis for the jury to believe that Mrs. Mazzie’s injuries caused no pain and suffering … This is simply not a case where the issues of liability and damages are intertwined. The jury’s affirmative resolution of negligence and causation in favor of Mrs. Mazzie does not suggest that their decision on liability was in doubt. Any other conclusions by [the court] would be based purely on speculation and conjecture.”

Pennsylvania Appellate Court Opinion

Reasonable Degree Of Medical Certainty

The Pennsylvania Appellate Court stated: “Our review of the record confirms that Dr. Mowschenson [plaintiff’s expert] testified, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that Dr. Garcia deviated from acceptable medical standards when he used a Veress needle to repair Mrs. Mazzie’s incisional and umbilical hernias. N.T. Trial, 8/27/19, at 112. Dr. Mowschenson also testified that such deviation was the proximate cause of Mrs. Mazzie’s post-operative injuries … Although Dr. Mowschenson did not use the exact phrase, “reasonable degree of medical certainty,” his opinions, as stated above, were rendered to that degree of certainty … While Appellants emphasize that Dr. Mowschenson used the phrase “more likely than not” on cross-examination in response to questions about Dr. Garcia’s alleged negligence, the totality of Dr. Mowschenson’s testimony revealed that his opinions were rendered to the requisite degree of certainty … Moreover, because the testimony, considered in its entirety, was sufficient to send the case to the jury, it would have been improper for the trial court to grant Appellants’ motion for non-suit.”

The Pennsylvania Appellate Court further stated: “the record supports the jury’s finding that Dr. Garcia negligently performed Mrs. Mazzie’s lower abdominal surgery and that his negligence was a factual cause of her post-operative injuries. Based on the aforementioned discussion, we find that liability was fairly determined and that it was not intertwined with damages … We also find that a new trial limited to damages is appropriate because Mrs. Mazzie endured compensable pain and suffering … we find that damages for past medical expenses are sufficiently independent and discrete from damages for pain and suffering as to limit a new trial to those damages only.”

The Pennsylvania Appellate Court held: “we conclude that the record supports the trial court’s ruling that it was unreasonable for the jury to believe that Mrs. Mazzie did not endure compensable pain and suffering. Because the record supports the trial court’s ruling, we find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting a new trial on damages.”

Source Mazzie v. Lehigh Valley Hospital—Muhlenberg, 2021 PA Super 73.

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