In its decision filed on January 23, 2015, the Supreme Court of Iowa (“Iowa Supreme Court”) addressed the issues of whether a new trial should be ordered when a physician defendant in a medical malpractice case treats an ailing juror during trial, and the need for conducting a new trial as to other medical malpractice defendants.
The Iowa Supreme Court set forth in its written opinion that a juror fainted in the middle of a medical malpractice trial against two defendant physicians. One of the defendants immediately assisted the ailing juror, who recovered quickly and was excused. The other medical malpractice defendant did not assist the juror.
After the fainting incident, the district court judge personally interviewed each juror, in the presence of the parties’ attorneys who were provided the opportunity to ask questions, but out of the presence of the other jurors, seeking to determine each juror’s ability to remain fair and neutral. After receiving responses from all remaining jurors that they could be fair and impartial, the district court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for mistrial and allowed the case to continue.
The jury subsequently returned defense verdicts for both defendants, and the district court entered judgment in favor of both medical malpractice defendants. The plaintiffs appealed and the court of appeals reversed, ordering a new trial as to both defendants (“We conclude that medical assistance furnished by a doctor, who is a party in a medical malpractice case, to a juror in the presence of the jury seriously compromises the integrity of the trial. Such compromise to the integrity of the trial cannot be cured by retrial against some, but not all, defendants. We therefore reject [the non-assisting defendant physician’s] request that a new trial should not be ordered against her”). The court of appeals’ decision was then appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court by the defendant physician who had not assisted the juror who had fainted (the defendant physician who had assisted the juror who had fainted did not appeal the court of appeals’ decision that he face a new trial).
The Iowa Supreme Court had to decide whether the district court abused its discretion when it allowed the jury verdict to stand as to the defendant physician who had not rendered medical assistance to the juror who had fainted. The Iowa Supreme Court held that the medical malpractice claims against the two defendant physicians were distinct and arose out of separate acts of alleged malpractice at different times; the Iowa Supreme Court stated that it did not believe that one defendant’s actions engendered a sense of undue goodwill and respect in the jury toward the medical profession generally that would be a sufficient basis for overturning the district court’s exercise of discretion.
If you or a family member suffered serious injuries (or worse) as a result of possible medical negligence in Iowa or in another U.S. state, you should promptly seek the legal advice of an Iowa medical malpractice attorney or a medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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