November 30, 2019

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Middle District (“Pennsylvania Supreme Court”), in its opinion dated September 26, 2019, reinstated a Pennsylvania medical malpractice jury’s verdict in the amount of $2,391,620 in favor of the plaintiff, who alleged that she suffered injuries while she was in the defendant hospital following knee surgery when she fell out of bed while in the post-surgical unit.

The plaintiff complained to a nurse that she had pain and clicking in her knee but the nurse did not report those symptoms to her doctor. Physical therapy was ordered and the physical therapist subsequently reported the plaintiff’s symptoms to her doctor. It was then determined that the plaintiff had suffered an avulsion fracture of her left tibial tuberocity as a result of the fall, requiring two additional surgeries. Both surgeries were unsuccessful and the plaintiff is confined to a wheelchair because she has no extensor mechanism in her leg. She also has chronic pain.

The plaintiff amended her Pennsylvania medical malpractice complaint to allege that the nurse was negligent in failing to advise the plaintiff’s treating doctor regarding the pain and clicking in her knee that resulted in the plaintiff undergoing multiple rounds of physical therapy that contributed to her injuries and the need for surgery (the plaintiff suffered an undiagnosed nondisplaced fracture in her left knee that she alleged was caused by her fall that became displaced as a result of physical therapy). The defendant hospital had moved to prevent the amended complaint, arguing that the claims regarding the nurse’s negligence were precluded by the two-year statute of limitations for Pennsylvania medical malpractice claims. The court nonetheless allowed the plaintiff’s amended complaint.

The intermediate appellate court had overturned the jury’s verdict, finding that one of the plaintiff’s medical malpractice claims was time-barred and should not have been submitted to the jury. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted review of the intermediate appellate court’s decision.

General Verdict Rule

The general verdict rule provides that when the jury returns a general verdict involving two or more issues and its verdict is supported as to at least one issue, the verdict will not be reversed on appeal. Furthermore, a defendant who fails to request a special verdict form in a civil case will be barred on appeal from complaining that the jury may have relied on a factual theory unsupported by the evidence when there was sufficient evidence to support another theory properly before the jury. The adoption of the general verdict rule was necessary “because we will not shift the burden to the [plaintiff] due to the [defendant’s] failure to request a special verdict.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that pursuant to the general-verdict rule, the defendant hospital had waived entitlement to a new trial on damages by failing to request a special interrogatory on the jury verdict sheet that would have permitted the jury to allocate the damages awarded in each claim: “Where a plaintiff has at least one viable theory of recovery supported by competent evidence, a new trial will not be awarded where the issue complained of on appeal would have been avoided but for the defendant’s failure to request a special interrogatory on the verdict sheet that would have resolved the issue.”

Source Shiflett v. Lehigh Valley Health Network, Inc., No. 43 MAP 2018.

If you or a loved one were injured (or worse) due to medical negligence in Pennsylvania or elsewhere in the United States, you should promptly seek the legal advice of a local medical malpractice attorney in Pennsylvania or in your U.S. state who may investigate your medical negligence claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

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