On November 20, 2015, the Supreme Court of Louisiana rejected an appeal from the plaintiffs in a Louisiana medical malpractice case that was dismissed by the trial court after the jury found that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that medical negligence caused the husband’s injuries. The intermediate appellate court had denied the plaintiffs’ request for a new trial earlier this year. The Supreme Court of Louisiana did not provide its reason for rejecting the appeal.
The Alleged Underlying Facts
The husband had gallbladder surgery performed five years ago during which the defendant surgeon was alleged by the plaintiffs (husband and wife) to have cut the wrong anatomical structure during the surgery that led to bile leaking from the husband’s liver and causing damage to his liver. The defendant surgeon admitted that he had mistakenly cut the husband’s common bile duct instead of his cystic duct but alleged that it was due to a medical condition of the husband. The husband required additional, corrective liver surgery at another New Orleans hospital to address the harm caused by the defendant surgeon’s surgical error.
The plaintiffs filed their Louisiana medical malpractice claim that was sent to a medical review panel in 2011, as required by Louisiana medical malpractice law. The medical review panel found in favor of the defendant surgeon, finding that cutting the wrong duct during gallbladder surgery is a known risk of the procedure and that there was no breach in the standard of care by the defendant surgeon.
The plaintiffs thereafter filed their Louisiana medical malpractice case in court, as allowed by Louisiana medical malpractice law. Their medical malpractice claim was tried before a Louisiana medical malpractice jury in 2013, which found in favor of the defendant surgeon. The plaintiffs filed an appeal, arguing that improper conduct by the trial judge deprived them of a fair trial, among other alleged trial errors (the trial judge allegedly inquired into the plaintiffs’ payment of their medical expert during the trial, gave a defense witness a warm welcome, and was eating candy and walking around the courtroom).
The July 7, 2015 decision of the appellate court held that the trial judge properly instructed the jury to disregard anything that the trial judge may have said or done that suggested that he favored any particular party or that he had any opinion regarding the case.
A typical Louisiana jury instruction states, “Under Louisiana Law, in a jury trial the judge is not permitted to comment on, or express any opinion about the case or the evidence. If, during the trial I say or do anything that suggests any opinion as to what the facts of the case are, you should disregard it. I am not the judge of the facts in this case. You alone are the judge of the facts. My main duty in a jury trial is to instruct you as to the law that you must apply in reaching your verdict.”
Nonetheless, there is an old adage that you cannot unring a bell: even though the trial judge instructed the jury that the jury should disregard anything that he had said or that he had done that may be interpreted as favoritism towards one of the parties, it may very well have been difficult, if not impossible, for individual jurors to undo their perceptions or realize what effect such behavior by a trial judge may have played in their thinking while the trial progressed.
If you or a family member were injured (or worse) due to medical negligence in Louisiana, you should promptly find a Louisiana medical malpractice lawyer who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.