In a recent medical malpractice case, the jury found that the plaintiffs did not prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, the standard of care applicable to the emergency room doctor they had sued for a medical malpractice allegation. Because the plaintiffs had not proved their case the suit was dismissed. However, on a motion by the plaintiffs, the trial judge issued a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, reversing the jury’s decision and awarding the plainiffs over five million dollars in damages. The doctor and hospital board appealed this decision.
A plaintiff in a medical malpractice case alleging that the doctor was negligent must prove 1) the amount of skill or knowledge possessed by a typical doctor or the amount of care ordinarily exercised by licensed doctors in Louisiana practicing in a similar community or under similar circumstances as the doctor being sued. 2) that the doctor either did not have required level of knowledge or skill or did not use ordinary level of care and 3) that the result of this lack of knowledge, skill or care caused the plaintiffs injuries which would not have otherwise occurred. The jury found that the plaintiffs failed to establish the level of care used by Louisiana emergency room physician in similar circumstances therefore they could not have proved either of the other elements.
A judge may issue a judgment notwithstanding the verdict when the evidence is so strongly in favor of one party that reasonable jurors could not give a verdict for the other party. When a party (the party who lost the jury verdict) moves for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict the motion must be denied if there is evidence for the other party (which won the jury verdict) that could lead a reasonable person to side with the other party. The court should resolved all reasonable inferences and factual questions in favor of the party who won the jury verdict. This is a very difficult standart for the moving party to clear. The jury verdict must have been completely illogical and unfounded for a judge to override it. When an appeals court reviews a trial judge’s decision to grant a judgment notwithstanding the verdict the same standard is used. In this case the courts must evaluate the evidence given my both sides medical experts to determine whether reasonable people could have found that the plaintiffs failed to prove the applicable standard of care.
The plaintiff’s experts stated that the plaintiff’s condition in the hospital showed obvious signs of a possible stroke and that the defendant did not do the majority of tests that a reasonable emergency room doctor would do if a stroke was suspected. The defense’s experts stated that it was no so obvious the plaintiff was having a stroke and that tests and procedures performed by the defendant were what a reasonable doctor would do under the circumstances. After reviewing the testimony the appeals court found that the many differences in the expert’s opinions as to what should have been done in this case showed that there was enough of a question about the standard of care that a reasonable juror could have found for the defendants, as the jury did. The appeals court vacated the trial court’s judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
The next issue is whether or not there should be a new trial. The trial judge had ordered a new trial in the case that the judgment notwithstanding the verdict was vacated. The trial court has discretion to order a new trial and the appeals court will review that decision for abuse of discretion. An order for a new trial should be vacated if it is not supported by any fair interpretation of the evidence from the first trial. Because the appeals court found that the evidence supported the jury’s verdict the plaintiff’s are not entitled to a new trial.
This case demonstrates the importance of establishing each aspect of a case with sufficiently strong evidence. The experienced lawyers at the Berniard Law Firm can help you understand and resolve these complex issues.