Massachusetts Court of Appeals Affirms $2.5 Million Gross Negligence Verdict in Hiatal Hernia Medical Malpractice Case

Not every bad result in an operating room or emergency treatment center results in a finding of medical negligence. After all, some patients have medical conditions that may not respond to treatment, and some have diseases or injuries for which there is no cure.

However, if a particular patient could have been saved through the exercise of reasonable medical care but, instead, dies because the treating physician’s care fell below the standard of competency for doctors who regularly perform such procedures, a Cape Cod medical malpractice lawsuit may be possible. An attorney who practices in this area will need to review the facts of your loved one’s particular case in order to determine whether there is a reasonable chance for success on the merits before going forward with the case.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was the surviving spouse and personal representative of a woman who died after undergoing surgery for treatment of a hiatal hernia in her diaphragm. The plaintiff brought a medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit against the defendants, a doctor, a nurse, and the professional corporation for whom they worked, alleging that defendants’ treatment of the decedent fell below the standard of care for an average qualified surgeon and nurse and that this breach of care was a substantial factor in the decedent’s death. The defendants answered that the decedent died as a result of longstanding damage to her heart caused by her hiatal hernia rather than from any alleged negligence committed by them.

The case was tried to a jury, which found in favor of the plaintiff. After the trial court entered judgment upon the jury’s verdict, the defendants filed an appeal, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that the doctor’s actions amounted to gross negligence, for which the jury awarded $2.5 million to the plaintiff.

Decision by the Court

The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s judgment. The court began its analysis of the defendants’ arguments on appeal by refusing to address their claim that the trial court judge had committed reversible error in instructing the jury on the issue of gross negligence; in the reviewing court’s opinion, the defendants had waived any argument about the instructions by telling the trial court judge that the instruction was “fine” when specifically asked about it during the trial.

The court of appeals went on to find that, contrary to the defendants’ argument, there was sufficient evidence for the jury to have concluded that the doctor’s decision to use a “tacker” in close proximity to the decedent’s pericardium incurred an obvious risk: that failure to use reasonable care could be fatal. Given the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert witness and the doctor’s admission that he did not measure the thickness of the decedent’s diaphragm crura at the time of the surgery (choosing to merely estimate it instead), the court found that the jury’s gross negligence verdict was reasonably justified.

Speak to a Cape Cod Wrongful Death Lawyer

Losing a loved one due to the negligence of a medical professional in whom a family member had placed his or her trust and confidence can be heartbreaking. It can also leave a family with many medical expenses and other financial loss associated with the loved one’s passing. If you need to talk to an established Cape Cod medical malpractice attorney about a possible medical malpractice wrongful death case, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, at 888-262-6664 and schedule an appointment today.

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