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Appeals Court Decision: Example of Hurdles to Final Resolution in Medical Malpractice Cases

The Illinois medical malpractice attorneys at our firm were interested to read in the Baltimore Sun about an appellate decision in Maryland that will force a family to endure another trial. It is difficult to analyze the merits of the appellate court decision based on the available facts, but in any event the situation is a reminder that there are many hoops that a plaintiff must jump through before receiving redress following a medical error.

The Case
In 2010 a medical malpractice case went to trial and a jury awarded a woman $2.8 million following claims that a surgical error left the woman paralyzed from the waist down. At the crux of the suit were claims that the medical team make a series of errors during the surgery which led to unexpected complications. Specifically, the woman argued that the wrong size graft was used in a heart procedure to repair a blocked aorta.

However, the woman did not receive the jury award. That is because the defendants in the case appealed the jury verdict.

The Appeal
When making an appeal, a party to a lawsuit claim that various legal errors were made in the lower court which justify some sort of accident. Importantly, appeals cannot be based on the fact that one thinks that the jury simply got it wrong. Instead, an appeal only works when a party claims that legal errors were made involving decisions by the trial court itself.

For example, in this case the defendant doctor appealed on four issues: (1) Improper prohibition by the court of a CAT scan; (2) Improper use of the doctor’s lack of board certification as evidence; (3) Abuse of discretion in allowing a particular expert witness; and (4) Improper judicial determination that the plaintiff met their burden of proof (because of the expert witness used).

The Appellate Ruling
In a decision issued earlier this month the appellate court ordered a new trial in the case. They did so based on their agreement with the defendant on two of the four issues raised on appeal. In particular, the appellate court found that the CAT scan evidence should have been admitted and the board certification evidence should not have been admitted.

The court held that, even though the plaintiff’s attorneys did not receive the CAT scan until shortly before the trial, it was clearly relevant and should have been allowed. Further they felt that the board-certification question was irrelevant and shouldn’t have been allowed.

Legal Reform
If anything, this case should be yet another reminder of the misguided claims about a wealth of frivolous lawsuits and plaintiffs who reap “windfalls” as a result of these lawsuits. Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys know that even when a jury reaches a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, the party must often defeat an appeal before any recourse is had. This process is timely and costly. Of course the appeal is a vital component of the civil justice system and an important check to ensure fairness in all cases. It is also a further reason why even more hurdles are not needed, which is what tort reform proponents argue.

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