On July 21, 2015, the Supreme Court of Missouri upheld a $4.3 million Missouri medical malpractice verdict in favor of a 36-year-old man whose prostate abscess was improperly treated, leading to its rupture and the man’s serious and permanent injuries. The Missouri medical malpractice jury determined that the defendant urologist negligently failed to drain the man’s prostate abscess, leading to its rupture and the spread of infection to the man’s penis, scrotum, pelvis, and perineum.
The Alleged Facts
On May 11, 2009, the defendant urologist diagnosed the plaintiff with a prostate abscess and treated him with antibiotics. On May 15, 2009, another urologist associated with the defendant urology practice examined the man, determined that the man’s prostate abscess should be drained, but continued the man on antibiotic treatment without draining the abscess (draining the abscess involves piercing it and allowing it to drain from the body through the urinary tract).
On May 17, 2009, the man’s prostate abscess ruptured and the original urologist performed surgery that involved placing multiple tubes for drainage between the man’s scrotum and anus. Nonetheless, the infection spread into the man’s penis, scrotum, pelvis, and perineum, causing him to be in a coma for 28 days during which he was on a mechanical ventilator in order to breathe. The infection destroyed the man’s urethra, which had to be reconstructed with tissue from his mouth (in the meantime, the man had to urinate from his perineum), and destroyed the musculature surrounding the man’s urethra, causing urinary incontinence. As a result of the ruptured prostate abscess and resulting spread of infection, the man sustained impaired reproductive function along with persistent and permanent pain (the man became engaged shortly after suffering his injuries).
The Missouri medical malpractice jury returned its unanimous verdict in favor of the man, determining that he was entitled to a total of $4.3 million: $401,726.77 for past economic damages, $1.5 million for past non-economic damages, and $2,398,273.23 for future non-economic damages. The defendants appealed the Missouri medical malpractice jury’s verdict, arguing, in part, that the jury’s verdict was excessive because it was a result of passion and prejudice, exceeded the amount requested by the man in closing argument, and exceeded fair and reasonable compensation for his injuries.
The Supreme Court of Missouri stated that there are two general types of excessive verdicts: (1) a verdict that is disproportionate to the evidence of injury and results from an “honest mistake” by the jury in assessing damages; and (2) a verdict that is excessive due to trial error that causes bias and prejudice by the jury. When a verdict is excessive because of an “honest mistake” in the jury’s assessment of damages, the excessive verdict can be remedied by ordering remittitur or granting a new trial. When an excessive verdict is caused by trial error causing bias and prejudice in the jury, a new trial is required.
If there was trial error or misconduct by the prevailing party, the party alleging an excessive verdict must show that the verdict is so grossly excessive as to shock the conscience because it is glaringly unwarranted. However, the amount of the verdict does not by itself establish bias or passion and prejudice without showing some other error was committed during the trial.
The Supreme Court of Missouri stated that a jury’s award of damages should fairly and reasonably compensate the plaintiff for his or her injury. The factors that a jury should consider in determining damages include the nature and extent of injury, diminished earning capacity, economic condition, plaintiff’s age, and awards in comparable cases. A jury is also allowed to consider intangible or non-economic damages relating to past and future pain, suffering, effect on life-style, embarrassment, humiliation, and economic loss.
The Supreme Court of Missouri stated that its review of a jury’s verdict begins with the recognition that the jury retains virtually unfettered discretion in reaching its decision because there is a large range between the damage extremes of inadequacy and excessiveness, and an appellate court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and disregards evidence to the contrary.
In the present case, the Supreme Court of Missouri stated that the evidence supported the jury’s verdict: the 36-year-old man sustained injuries including the destruction and reconstruction of his urethra, permanent sexual and urological dysfunction, persistent pain in his groin, and multiple painful medical procedures aimed at ameliorating the effects of his injuries. The evidence further showed that the man’s injuries have interfered with his physical relationship with his wife. There was also evidence that the man’s injuries have negatively impacted his personality and self-esteem.
The Supreme Court of Missouri stated: “Given Respondent’s relatively young age, the extent of his injuries, the persistent pain, and the negative effects on multiple aspects of his life, this Court finds no basis for interfering with the jury’s virtually unfettered discretion to determine damages or the trial court’s decision to enter judgment according to the jury’s verdict. This portion of the verdict was not excessive or disproportionate to the evidence of Respondent’s injuries.”
The Supreme Court of Missouri further held that Missouri case law recognizes that the suggestion of a damages award during closing argument is not evidence and is not binding on the jury: “The jury’s decision to award a greater amount of damages than suggested by Respondent’s closing argument does not establish that the verdict was excessive. Appellants have not established that the verdict was excessive due to jury bias and prejudice. Appellants are not entitled to a new trial.”
Source Stewart v. Partamian, M.D., et al., No. SC94120.
If you are the victim of medical negligence in Missouri, you should promptly find a Missouri medical malpractice lawyer who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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