The Online Athens reported last week on developments out of Georgia which offer a second chance to a family who filed a medical malpractice lawsuit following a birth injury. Legal errors were made by lower courts, say the latest ruling,which require a new trial to correct. Each Chicago medical malpractice attorney at our firm understand that it is vital for the law to be properly applied at all stages of a civil lawsuit to ensure fairness to both sides. When mistakes are made, it is sometimes necessary to essentially re-do a trial to ensure a verdict is the right one. The potential for appeal and reversal of a lower court decision applies equally to defendants and plaintiffs alike.
The family in this case filed a medical malpractice suit following the birth of their daughter in 1998. They claim that an obstetrician committed negligence, which left the girl permanently disabled. The case went to trial where the jury eventually ruled in favor of the defendants, finding the doctor not liable.
The family appealed the decision.
Like all appeals, the appellant (the one who appeals) argued that there was an error of law made by the lower court. In other words, the family did appeal simply because they believe the jury got it wrong. Instead they appealed because they believe the judge in the lower court made a mistake when applying the law to some facet of the case. That legal mistake, they claim, skewed the process and may have led the jury to wrongly decide the matter.
In particular, the family argued that the trial judge erred in limiting the amount of time that the plaintiff could be in the courtroom during the trial.
Each Illinois medical malpractice lawyer understands that local residents may be surprised by the scope of a trial judge’s discretion in many areas of a trial. In this case, in order to avoid “undue sympathy” which might skew the jury’s opinion, the trial judge did not allow the child whose rights were being discussed in the case to be in the courtroom through most of the proceedings. The trial judge felt that her presence (and medical condition) would be met with sympathy by the jury and the jury would not be able to separate that sympathy from applying the law to the facts of the case to reach a decision on the doctor’s negligence.
However, the state’s Supreme Court ordered a new trial, because of the trial judge’s decision. In so holding the Court noted that consideration of the risk of undue sympathy was warranted but the “solution” went too far. Other options existed which would have dealt with the risks without stepping on the plaintiff’s right to be present at her own civil trial.
Highlighting that right, the opinion explained, “The right of a natural party to be present in the courtroom when her case is being tried is deeply rooted in the law of this nation.”
Instead of barring her from the courtroom, venue could have been changed or jurors could have been excluded based on their answers. But denying entrance to the plaintiff because of her physical and mental condition is unjust.
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