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State Court to Hear Case on Exclusion of Testimony in Malpractice Case

Only a minority of medical malpractice cases that are filed go to trial. That is either because the others are dismissed or result in a pre-trial settlment. Matters that go to trial are more costly, because more expensive legal work is required. In most cases, it is preferable for the parties to reach an agreement on an amount of compensation that avoids those expenses and ensures fair redress for the harm caused. However, there are times when those settlements cannot be reached. That usually results from one of two situations. Either the parties are not on the same page when it comes to a specific settlement amount or the defendant refuses to believe that they were actually negligent. Therefore, trials in malpractice cases are most common in situations where the amount of damages is disputed and in cases where the existence of negligence is a close call and could go either way.

In any event, when a case does go to trial, one of the most critical aspects of the resolution stem from evidentiary rules. Clients are often surprised by the complexity of these procedural rules about what can and cannot be said. It is not necessarily as simple as having any piece of information that might be relevant introduced at trial. Just because something is relevant is not the deciding factor–other barriers exist. Arguing over those barriers is often extensive. The evidentiary decisions are made by the judge, not the jury, and therefore may form the basis of an appeal by the party losing a case.

Medical Malpractice Appeal
For example, the Mitchell Republic published a story recently on an appeal reaching a state Supreme Court regarding the admissability of certain evidence in a medical malpractice case. The matter stems from a wrist surgery in which a metal plate and screws were installed in a wrist. The patient claims that the screws were placed in such a position that is caused her extreme pain. She asked for compensation for the pain and medical bills.

The patient had a video deposition taken of an orthopaedic surgeon who claimed that the doctor in this case breached the standard of care by failing to explain to the woman the risk of complications regarding the placement of the screw. However, the trial judge excluded the section of the video at trial. The jury was only allowed to see a portion of the video where this statement was not made. The judge did not allow that section of the tape to be displayed becase, he ruled, the plaintiff’s attorney did not properly disclose the section to the defense counsel before trial. There are strict rules about how information needs to be shared between both sides in a civil law case.

The plaintiff attorney contests the matter and argues that the proper disclosure was given. Therefore, the exclusion of the full video at trial was in error which caused harm to the patient’s case. He made that argument in front of the state’s Supreme Court this week. Depending on the court’s decision, the matter may be done for good or it may be sent back for a re-trial with the full extent of the case heard by a new jury. Also, if sent back, it is possible for the parties to decide to settle the matter.

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