Massachusetts Court of Appeals Affirms Defense Verdict in Medical Malpractice Case Arising from Infant’s Death Three Days After Birth

When a litigant who is unsatisfied with a trial court’s ruling files an appeal, the burden is on that appellant to convince the higher court that a mistake was made in the court below.

This can be a difficult task, especially when one of the grounds for the appeal is the alleged bias or favor of the trial court judge.

Facts of the Case

In a recent malpractice case decided by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the plaintiffs were the parents of an infant who died just days after her birth. The plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and wrongful death claims resulted in a jury verdict in favor of the defendant medical providers. The plaintiffs appealed the trial court’s denial of their motion for a new trial, alleging that the trial judge had made various mistakes in her evidentiary rulings and instructions to the jury. The plaintiffs also averred that the trial court judge had engaged in “persistent favoritism and biased conduct” toward the defendants.


Decision of the Appeals Court

The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s order denying a new trial to the plaintiffs. The court first noted that original, contemporaneous paper records of the deceased infant’s fetal heart rate tracings were “unable to be found” but that copies of the tracings were introduced into evidence. With regard to the plaintiffs’ argument that the trial court had committed reversible error in allowing the defendants to call attention to the fact that the plaintiffs had not called as witnesses any of the post-delivery providers whose notes were on the copies, the court noted that the trial judge had denied the defendants’ motion for a “missing witness” instruction, and the denial of such a motion, when balanced with the allowance of the defendants’ statement to the jury, did not result in an abuse of judicial discretion.

The appellate court likewise found no error with regard to the trial judge’s curative instructions following the plaintiffs’ opening statement to the effect that the defendants were the last two people known to have had possession of the missing original fetal heart monitor tracings. The court found that the plaintiffs’ remarks were “deleterious inferences unsupported by evidence” and that the trial court judge did not show bias in making the curative instructions of which the plaintiffs complained. The court further opined that the trial judge’s jury charge concerning the duty of care was proper.

Finally, the court’s review of the trial transcript provided “no support whatsoever” to the plaintiffs’ argument that the trial court judge demonstrated bias or prejudice against the plaintiffs’ case. The court pointed out that, although the judge had admonished plaintiffs’ counsel concerning his allegedly repetitive and protracted questioning, this was done at a sidebar conference without the jury’s knowledge.  The court also found no merit to the plaintiffs’ arguments concerning the expert testimony of certain witnesses whom the plaintiffs characterized as undisclosed, nor to the plaintiffs’ assertion that the trial judge showed bias with regard to the number of peremptory challenges they were allowed.

Overall, the court found that the plaintiffs had been afforded a fair trial and thus determined that there was no reason to reverse the lower court’s denial of the plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial.

To Speak with a Massachusetts Attorney About Your Case

Medical mistakes are much more common that the general public would like to believe. If you or a loved one has been hurt by the negligence of a doctor, nurse, or other health care provider, you should talk to a lawyer about whether you may have a viable claim against the medical professional who hurt you or your loved one. The experienced Cape Cod medical malpractice attorneys at the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, can advise you concerning your case. Call us at (888) 262-6664 to schedule a free consultation. We have offices in both Plymouth and Hyannis.

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