In a post earlier this week, we reviewed the Third Circuit’s treatment of a medical malpractice case that arose from a double knee replacement surgery. In addition to her enumeration of error about the faulty opinion returned by the state medical review panel, the plaintiff, Margie McGlothlin, also asserted there was no “reasonable factual basis” for the jury’s conclusion that the hospital was not liable for her injuries. As part of its de novo review, the court examined the record for details on the two incidents that McGlothlin pointed to as the cause of her kneecap dislocation. The first involved her transfer between a wheelchair and her hospital bed at the rehabilitation center during which a nursing assistant, working without help, dropped McGlothlin. The other incident similarly involved a nursing assistant–again working unaided–who dropped McGlothlin as she was transferring to the restroom. The court reviewed the applicable standard of care for these situations:
The transfer from wheelchair to either bed or toilet of a bilateral knee replacement patient weighing almost 300 pounds requires at least two people assisting in the transfer together with the use of a gait belt.
Whether the hospital employees breached that standard of care, and whether that breach caused McGlothlin’s injury, are questions of fact usually left to the jury. The second incident, in particular, involved several factual discrepancies. McGlothlin testified that, after she fell while attempting to make her way to the bathroom, she immediately called for her doctor, explained what happened, and submitted to an x-ray which revealed the dislocation of her kneecap. The nursing assistant caring for McGlothlin during this time, however, denied that the restroom incident occurred at all and maintained that McGlothlin never suffered injuries of any kind. The hospital further argued that McGlothlin’s kneecap became dislocated as a result of activities during rehabilitation and without any negligence on the part of hospital employees. In reviewing the account of McGlothlin’s progress, the court found no evidence of a “traumatic event” during therapy that could have caused the injury. However, the report did make note of McGlothlin’s increased pain in her left knee and a corresponding reduction in recommended exercise by her therapist. Ultimately, the court found that McGlothlin’s allegations had “credibility.” Reviewing the entire record, the court concluded that McGlothlin carried her burden of establishing that during the restroom transfer, the nursing assistant breached the duty of the care, and that this breach resulted in an injury to McGlothlin’s left knee. Accordingly, after considering the appropriate level of damages, the court reversed the trial court’s judgment dismissing McGlothlin’s claims and rendered judgment in her favor and against Christus St. Patrick Hospital. The court awarded McGlothlin the statutory maximum of $500,000.00 in damages, plus $62,341.29 in past medical costs and the expenses of reasonable future medical treatment.
This rare course of action by the Third Circuit — to reverse a jury verdict and substitute its own judgment following a de novo review, demonstrates the extremely high level of influence the medical review panel can have on the outcome of a trial. And in a case such as this one, where the review panel reached conclusions beyond those it was legally permitted to entertain, the prejudicial effect on the jury’s analysis is striking. Accordingly, in order to preserve the integrity of the tort process, the appellate court felt obligated to correct the jury’s inappropriate decision that resulted from the trial court’s error in handling the panel opinion. The McGlothlin case shows how critical a persistent, zealous attorney can be for an injured plaintiff.
If you have been injured due to the negligence of a healthcare provider, call the Berniard Law Firm today toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 and speak with a lawyer who can help.