Louisiana Appellate Court Denies Appeal Of Jury Finding In Terrebonne Parish Medical Malpractice Case

operating-room-1442366-1024x683With all of the advances in the field of medicine these days most people would probably think that a surgery to remove a person’s gallbladder would be considered fairly routine. However, when it comes to surgery, nothing can be taken for granted. A Louisiana resident, Richard Logan, and his doctor found this out the hard way during a surgery that was performed in August of 2010. That was when Mr. Logan underwent surgery to have his gallbladder removed, but the surgery was anything but routine.

During the surgery, the doctor, Dr. Donald Schwab, cut the wrong “duct,” believing it to be the correct one. However, the correct duct had been “obliterated” due to Mr. Logan’s medical condition. As soon as the mistake became evident, the doctor, who was a general surgeon, consulted with a specialist. It was then determined that Mr. Logan needed to be transferred, and subsequently the problem was corrected. A Medical Review Panel investigated the issue and determined that Dr. Schwab did not breach the appropriate standard of care. That, however, did not deter Mr. Logan, and he filed a lawsuit against Dr. Schwab in state court.

The case went all the way to a jury trial, which lasted for three days. In the end, the jury determined that Mr. Logan had failed to establish the appropriate standard of care for the surgery in question. On March 15, 2013, the trial court dismissed Mr. Logan’s claims. He appealed, claiming three sources of error. First, Mr. Logan claimed that the trial court judge had improperly influenced the jury. Second, he claimed that the testimony of a certain expert witness, as well as the admission of the opinion of the Medical Review Panel, were both in err. Lastly, Mr. Logan claimed that the jury’s finding was in err.

The appellate court analyzed each of these three issues in turn. First, the appellate court noted that the trial court judge did act in some inappropriate manners at times during the trial, but of particular importance was the fact that Mr. Logan did not object to any of the behavior while the trial was taking place. Even if he had, the behavior a party complains about in these types of circumstances must be so prejudicial that the party is deprived of a fair trial. While odd, there was no indications that the trial court judge’s behavior rose to this level, and as a result it was not reversible error.

Next, the controversial testimony by the expert witness named by Mr. Logan had to do with the standard of care in the circumstances – a crucial issue of law in any medical malpractice case. The expert witness was introduced as an expert in general surgery, and Mr. Logan did not object at the time. However, the expert witness testified as to the national standard of care for the surgery in question, not the local standard of care. Which of these two is applicable in a medical malpractice case varies by state law, but in Louisiana it is the local standard of care that needs to be established. Mr. Logan thought this was a key error, and during the trial he moved to strike the testimony. His motion was denied. In the appeal, the appellate court noted a few crucial aspects regarding this issue. First, the national standard of care and the local standard of care are the same, so it made little difference. Second, other witnesses testified as to the local standard of care during the trial, so the issue was covered. And third, a trial court has broad discretion on what evidence is admissible, and the appellate court will not disturb a trial court’s admission of evidence unless there is a clear abuse of discretion.

As to the admission of the opinion of the Medical Review Panel – the opinion that stated that Dr. Schwab had not breached the applicable standard of care – the appellate court noted that Louisiana law expressly permits such evidence to be admitted. In fact, La. R.S. 40:1299.47(H) states that such evidence “shall” be admissible. As a result, it was proper for the trial court to admit that opinion over Mr. Logan’s motion to strike.

The last issue that the appellate court addressed was the jury’s finding that Mr. Logan did not establish the standard of care. For this issue, the appellate court noted that both sides presented expert witnesses to testify as to the appropriate standard of care. Their opinions differed. But, the appellate court stated that it was clear that the jury chose to reject the standard proffered by Mr. Logan’s expert and instead accept the standard of care noted by Dr. Schwab’s expert. The appellate court stated that this was within the jury’s power to weigh the evidence, and as a result the jury’s finding was not in err. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Mr. Logan’s claims.


Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on Medical Review Panel issues: Lawsuit Over Lake Charles Surgery Reveals Role of Review Panel in Medical Malpractice Cases – Part 1