On January 6, 2016, in a non-precedential decision, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania (“Court”) affirmed the trial court’s denial of the plaintiffs’ motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and their motion for a new trial, finding that the trial court properly determined that (1) it was impossible to find that the plaintiffs were entitled to judgment as matter of law, and therefore the trial court properly denied judgment n.o.v.; (2) a new trial was not warranted when the jury did not find negligence to be a substantial factor in causing injury to the plaintiff where medical experts disagreed on whether alleged injury had occurred, and the verdict did not shock the trial court’s sense of justice; (3) medical records were properly admitted into evidence and the plaintiffs failed to show how they were prejudiced by publication of the medical records to jury; and, (4) properly authenticated medical illustrations were relevant to show proper placement of “cages” used in spinal surgery, and the trial court properly permitted publication of the medical illustrations to the jury.
The Underlying Facts
The plaintiff had underwent an anterior lumbar interbody fusion on his spine (“ALIF”) that was performed by the defendant spine surgeon. The plaintiff was re-admitted to the hospital with severe pain in his lower back and left leg, and the defendant spine surgeon performed a second surgery nine days after the initial surgery (the plaintiff had similar spine surgery while he was in the Navy ten years earlier, after which he received a medical discharge the same year). The plaintiff declined to undergo a third surgery by the defendant spine surgeon but did have additional spinal surgery performed by another surgeon five years later.
The plaintiffs’ Pennsylvania medical malpractice claims were hotly contested by the defense during the trial. The verdict sheet provided to the jury at the end of the trial asked, “Do you find that [the defendant spine surgeon] was negligent?” to which the jury responded “Yes.” The second question the jury was asked on the verdict sheet was, “[W]as the negligence of [the defendant spine surgeon] a factual cause in bringing about the injuries and harm of [the plaintiff]?” to which the jury responded “No.” The jury responded “yes” to the third jury question, which was whether the defendant spine surgeon had “sufficiently disclosed the risks associated with [ALIF] surgery to [the plaintiff] prior to performing the surgery.”
After the jury rendered its verdict in favor of the defendant, the plaintiffs challenged the jury’s determination that the defendant’s negligence was not the factual cause of any harm to the plaintiffs, alleging that the jury’s determination was against the weight of the evidence, which, they argued, required a judgment n.o.v. and a new trial on damages, or a new trial on causation and damages.
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the trial court’s denial of the plaintiffs’ post-trial motions.
Source Gulla, et al. v. Chyatte, M.D., No. 618 MDA 2015.
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