In its decision filed on March 12, 2019, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed a Maine medical malpractice jury’s award of $2 million to a man who had surgery on his right wrist that the jury found to have been negligently performed and the defendant surgeon negligently failed to timely diagnose during post-op office visits, causing the man to suffer a permanent impairment of his wrist. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court held that the jury’s award was not excessive.
The Underlying Facts
In July 2013, the plaintiff fractured the scaphoid bone in his right wrist at work. In September 2013, the defendant hand surgeon performed a surgical implantation of a compression screw in the plaintiff’s scaphoid bone.
Over the course of a few months after surgery, the defendant hand surgeon performed several imaging studies of the plaintiff’s right wrist but failed to diagnose any problems. The defendant hand surgeon ordered that the man begin physical therapy on his right wrist during which he had pain and felt a clicking in his right wrist. Eventually, the defendant hand surgeon discovered that the screw he implanted in the plaintiff’s right wrist was protruding from the scaphoid bone into the surrounding cartilage.
Because the plaintiff was out of work and receiving worker’s compensation benefits due to his surgery and recovery, he was referred to another surgeon for a worker’s compensation evaluation. That surgeon immediately discovered that the screw was protruding from the plaintiff’s scaphoid bone and performed surgery to remove the screw. During that surgery, the surgeon found extensive damage to the plaintiff’s cartilage and attempted to repair the damage. Despite the surgery, the plaintiff continued to experience pain, and several injections performed to relieve the pain were ineffective. The surgeon had to perform a third surgery during which the plaintiff’s scaphoid bone and two other bones had to be removed.
The plaintiff filed his Maine medical malpractice lawsuit against the first surgeon, alleging that he negligently performed the original surgery, leading to the plaintiff having permanent pain and permanent impairment of his right wrist. The Maine medical malpractice jury found the defendant hand surgeon and his employer negligent, and awarded the plaintiff $2,000,000 in compensatory damages. The defendants filed an appeal.
Maine Supreme Judicial Court Decision
The defendant hand surgeon argued on appeal that the jury’s award was excessive and therefore he was entitled to a new trial, or in the alternative, remittitur.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court stated that the assessment of damages is the responsibility of the jury and generally its judgment must stand. However, the trial court may intervene to set aside an excessive verdict if the moving party is able to demonstrate that the jury acted under some bias, prejudice, or improper influence, or has made some mistake of fact or law. A trial court’s refusal to grant a new trial or remittitur based on an allegedly excessive jury verdict is reviewed for a clear and manifest abuse of discretion.
In reviewing a claim that a jury’s verdict is excessive, a trial court initially examines the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict to determine if the verdict bears a rational relationship to the evidence. A rational relationship exists if there is any competent evidence in the record to support the verdict. If no rational relationship exists between the evidence in the record and the damages award, then the trial court must evaluate the jury’s basis for awarding the allegedly excessive damages. If an excessive award stems from an improper basis, such as passion or prejudice, a new trial is the appropriate remedy. However, when the excessive award stems from a good faith mistake, remittitur to the maximum amount that rationally could be found by a jury is the appropriate remedy.
In the case it was deciding, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court found that there is competent evidence in the record to support the trial court’s determination that there was a rational basis between the evidence and the jury’s damages award, to wit, due to the defendant hand surgeon’s negligence, three bones were removed from the plaintiff’s right wrist, leaving him permanently and significantly impaired; the plaintiff suffers emotional distress from his fear that he would be unemployable if he lost his job; the plaintiff has been unable to engage in activities as he did before his injury; and, the plaintiff had a significant loss of overtime wages because he had to take a new position at work.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court held: “Because the court could reasonably determine that the evidence bears a rational relationship to the jury’s award of $2,000,000, it was not a clear and manifest abuse of discretion for the court to deny [the defendant’s] motion for a new trial, or in the alternative, remittitur. We may not intervene merely because of the amount of the award or because another jury may have awarded less … This is particularly true where, as here, the jury was given a general verdict form, making it impossible to specifically determine the components of damages assessed by the jury that led to the overall verdict.”
Source Nason v. Pruchnik, 2019 ME 38.
If you or a loved one may have been injured as a result of medical negligence in Maine, you should promptly find a Maine medical malpractice lawyer who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a Maine medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
Click here to visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice attorneys in your U.S. state who may assist you.
Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.