In medical malpractice lawsuits in New York, it is not enough to prove the patient suffered serious injury while under the care of a physician or health care group. Even if the patient suffered death, it doesn’t necessarily mean a claim will be successful.
What must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence is the physician breached the prevailing professional standard of care. Usually, this means the level of care, skill and treatment that, under the circumstances, is recognized as acceptable by similar health care providers acting in a reasonably prudent manner.
In the recent case of Beebe v. St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department, reversed a trial court order granting a new trial after plaintiff’s objected to a verdict in the doctor’s favor. The trial court found its own instructions to the jury were erroneous or alternatively the verdict was against the weight of evidence. For this reason, it granted a new trial upon plaintiff’s request, but the appellate court reversed before that could happen.
Our Manhattan medical malpractice attorneys note the issue was not whether plaintiff had suffered injury. Following an emergency Cesarean section, she suffered a severe post-operative infection. The question was whether her physician breached the applicable standard of care. Although there was evidence presented to support plaintiff’s assertion there had been a breach of care, the appellate court did not find that evidence so overwhelming as to warrant a new trial. Using the language set forth in the case of Kettles v. City of Rochester, the appellate court found the evidence is “not so great that the verdict could not have been reached upon any fair interpretation of the evidence.”
Ultimately, the decision to overturn a jury verdict is not one the courts take lightly. So while there is always the possibility of an appeal, it’s much better to have the case tried well the first time.
Here, plaintiff underwent an emergency c-section. Defendant doctor conducted the surgery and provided both pre- and post-operative care. After he discharged plaintiff from the hospital, he spoke to her on the phone several hours later.
She developed a serious post-surgery infection. Such complications occur in about 3 to 6 percent of c-section cases, according to medical journals. There are many different kinds of infections that can arise, but some high-risk factors for infection include:
- An emergency c-section;
- Long labor or surgery;
- Previous c-section;
- Not receiving cautionary antibiotics or pre-incision microbial care;
- Excessive blood loss during labor, delivery or surgery.
Plaintiffs in Beebe alleged defendant doctor heightened the risk of infection by only providing one antibiotic. Also they asserted negligence in the doctor’s failure to order appropriate testing and treatment for plaintiff at a follow-up visit. Plaintiff alleged doctor did not conduct further inquiry regarding drainage from her incision, and failed to direct her to the emergency room after she called later that day reporting symptoms consistent with infection.
However, a jury trial found the doctor not to have been negligent.
Upon review, appellate court found the verdict sound, based on the doctor’s own testimony and that given by other physicians that he exercised professional judgment in choosing between acceptable alternative courses of action in his treatment and post-operative care. In other words, his actions met the basic standard of care, even though the outcome was negative for the plaintiff.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Beebe v. St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center, Oct. 3, 2014, New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department
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