Second Circuit Appeals Court Upholds Caddo Parish Wrongful Death Ruling

The Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed a $550,840 jury-verdict award based on a medical malpractice claim. The verdict accounted for both wrongful death and survival damages, all of which were awarded for the benefit of the decedents 8 surviving children.

In order to prevail in a medical malpractice lawsuit, the plaintiffs must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the hospital, their doctors, nurses and/or staff breached the applicable “standard of care,” and that this breach of care was a substantial factor in contributing to the patients injury or death. The applicable standard of care is “the degree of skill ordinarily employed, under similar circumstances, by members of the health care profession in good standing in the same community or locality, and to use reasonable care and diligence, along with his or her best judgment, in the application of his or her skill to the case.” The standard of care for medical malpractice claims is a comparative one; that is, a member of the medical profession is required to conduct themselves with the same amount of care as would a professional of equal status, under equal circumstances, and within the same community. For example, a nurse practicing medicine in a state-of-the art hospital in New Orleans would be subjected to the standard of care used by similarly situated nurses in similar hospitals, and a doctor would be held to the standard of a similarly situated doctor, etc., etc. Moreover, hindsight or subsequent events cannot be considered when determining whether the standard of care was breached. Instead, the judgment and conduct of medical professionals must be evaluated under the then existing circumstances.

In the instant case, the 75-year-old decedent underwent a colectomy and was recovering in the intensive care unit. She was recovering “fairly well” until December 2, 2003, at which point her condition began to deteriorate. She reportedly was having trouble breathing throughout the day and was pronounced dead at 6:28 P.M. The direct cause of her death and whether or not the hospital was at fault was an issue decided by the jury. The jury returned a 9-3 verdict in favor of plaintiffs, finding that Christus Schumpert Medical Center breached the standard of care in its treatment of the decedent, and the breach in the standard of care was a substantial factor in contributing to the death of the decedent. In reaching this verdict the jury heard testimony that the patient was having significant difficulty breathing throughout the day, and that the children of the decedent had brought this to the attention of the medical staff on several occasions. Moreover, that the attending physician ordered a number of medical tests to better assess the decedent’s breathing troubles, and that these tests were not administered by the attending nurse. To be sure, there was some testimony that the attending nurse maintained the standard of care, and that the decedent may have died from a pulmonary embolism, which would have been sudden and unexpected, relieving the hospital of any fault. However, in the end the jurors weighed the volumes of testimony and 9 of the 12 jurors sided with the plaintiffs.

On appeal, the Second Circuit found no error in the trials court’s ruling that would have had any substantial impact on the case. Moreover, the Second Circuit found that the jury verdict was reasonable in light of the evidence. It is important to point out that on appeal, the court will not reweigh the totality of the evidence. Instead, the court will only overturn a jury verdict on appeal if the evidence is so overwhelming that no reasonable jury could have decided the case the way that it did.

In fact, the jury verdict was a close 9-3 result – one less juror and the plaintiffs would have lost the trial. Moreover, the standard of review on appeal makes it very difficult to overturn jury verdicts. Thus, if you have been the victim of substandard care or negligent medical treatment, it is important to contact experienced legal representation so that complex matters such as these can be handled properly the first time, and you can secure the financial award you deserve.

The attorneys and staff at the Berniard Law Firm have experience in dealing with medical malpractice claims. Call the Berniard law firm at 1-866-574-8005 to determine the potential strength of your claim.