A State Supreme Court in the Bronx awarded a woman one of the largest medical malpractice payments in New York State history ($120 million) last week for her incapacitation at the hands of three NYC area hospitals in February 2004. Two of those hospitals were municipal hospitals and one was private.
Jacqueline Martin, now 45, was admitted for a seizure, but her caretakers were alleged to have "failed to respond swiftly to crises and did not provide essential treatments." Ms. Martin suffered swelling in her face, eyes, and throat in reaction to anti-seizure medication. She was diagnosed later with a rare and terrible skin disorder. To cap off the horror, she left with brain damage.
Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx was found 50% liable, Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn was 40% liable, Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center was 5% liable, and one of its neurologists was 4% liable. Ms. Martin was also found to be 1% liable, but her counsel claims this is due to a misunderstanding on the part of the jury.
The city plans to appeal the verdict, which they believe is too large and not consistent with the facts of the case and law. They are effectively challenging just over 10% of the malpractice award ($15 million), which they deem to overestimate Ms. Martin's foregone wages and medical costs.
Unfortunately, the news reports do not go into greater detail about the arguments made by the attorneys, especially during closing arguments. Nor do they describe the breakdown of the damages award.
In a medical malpractice case in New York, the jury is required to answer what is known as a “special verdict." that means that they are presented with a series of questions to evaluate the amount and type of monetary damages they are going to award if they believe that there was wrongdoing and that the wrongdoing caused injury.
Some examples of specific damages include awards for:
- past pain and suffering
- future pain and suffering
- past medical expenses
- future medical expenses
- lost income
- future lost income
Although this award is believed to be the largest medical malpractice verdict in New York State, the news reports again do not detail the extent of this patient's injuries. Nor do they explain fully what the patient's current condition is and what she is prevented from doing on a daily basis.
There is no question that the defense will appeal the verdict and argue that the award materially deviates from what other similar cases have received. Years ago, when cases with outrageous verdicts would come up for appeal, the standard that the appellate court would apply would be whether the award “Shocks the conscience of the court.”
That standard has fallen out of favor over the years, and the courts have attempted to apply a more objective standard of comparing similar cases and similar injuries.
While nobody can predict what an appellate court would do, it is important to know the different options that are available to the appellate court.
Importantly, before this case actually reaches the appellate court, the defense attorneys will likely ask the trial court to reduce the award making the same basic argument they will raise on appeal. Even if the trial judge reduces the award in some fashion, it is expected that the defense lawyers will still appeal the verdict, claiming that the award is outrageously excessive.
On appeal, the defense will argue that the award should be thrown out since the jury did not have sufficient information to reach the conclusions that it did. They will also argue that such an award is not legally justified and is not based on the evidence presented. This is where defense lawyers typically argue that this type of award is a runaway verdict based entirely on sympathy for the injured victim.
The appellate court has the option to:
- Throw out the verdict as being inconsistent with the weight of the evidence,
- Reduce the verdict
- Increase the verdict if they feel it is insufficient
- Throw out the verdict and order a new trial on the issue of damages
Many attorneys in the state will be watching this case carefully to see what happens during post-trial motions and on appeal. With this type of award, the bar has been raised even further and lawyers in NY will want to know whether the appeals court will confirm the award, reduce it or throw it out and have the attorneys start all over again.
If you would like more information about how medical malpractice cases work in the state of New York, I encourage you to explore my educational website. If you have legal questions, I invite you to pick up the phone and call me at 516-487-8207 or by e-mail at [email protected] to answer your questions. That's what I do every day. I welcome your call.