The Superior Court of Pennsylvania, in its non-precedential decision filed on October 6, 2017, affirmed the defense verdict entered in a Pennsylvania medical malpractice case where a juror was employed by a company that did business with doctors and therapists who had privileges at the defendant hospital, and the plaintiff claimed that the juror had a close financial tie to the defendant hospital that should have precluded the juror from serving on the jury.
The Underlying Facts
The Pennsylvania medical malpractice plaintiff alleged that on October 20, 2005, she went to the emergency room of the defendant hospital, complaining of nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting. The plaintiff was provided with an IV drip of saline that was administered via an IV port placed in the back of her left hand. Twice during her stay at the defendant hospital, the plaintiff received 12.5 mg doses of Phenergan that were administered through the IV port.
Each dose of Phenergan took approximately one- to two-and-one-half minutes to complete. Although Phenergan, which is an acidic fluid, was mixed with the saline at the IV port prior to the fluids actually entering the plaintiff’s blood, the plaintiff alleged in her Pennsylvania medical malpractice lawsuit that additional dilution of Phenergan was required to meet the standard of care and greatly lower, if not prevent, the Phenergan from causing nerve and tissue damage.
The Pennsylvania medical malpractice plaintiff subsequently developed tissue and nerve damage in her left hand and additionally developed reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD). The medical malpractice defendant contended that with the 12.5 mg doses used, no further dilution was necessary or required.
The Pennsylvania medical malpractice jury returned its verdict in favor of the defendant hospital, finding that the defendant hospital had not provided negligent medical care to the plaintiff. The plaintiff filed an appeal, contending that the trial court erred in not striking a prospective juror for cause where the defendant hospital was a client of the juror’s employer and so derived a financial benefit from the defendant hospital.
The juror in question worked as a compliance officer for a durable medical equipment company. The juror did not do sales but rather determined what equipment was covered by the patient’s insurance. The juror’s employer does not sell equipment directly to the defendant hospital but rather sells to doctors with privileges at the defendant hospital. The juror had not dealt with personally or through the phone any of the witnesses expected to testify at trial or who were involved with the plaintiff’s medical care.
The trial court determined that the juror did not have such a close relationship, be it familial, financial or situational, with the parties, counsel, victims, or witnesses such that prejudice should be presumed, and that the law did not require a finding of per se or presumed prejudice in indirect relationship situations. Furthermore, the juror did not demonstrate the likelihood of prejudice as evidenced by his answers to individual voir dire. The trial court determined that the juror, at most, had an indirect/remote relationship with the defendant hospital. The trial court permitted the juror to sit on the Pennsylvania medical malpractice jury, which subsequently returned its verdict in favor of the defendant hospital.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court Decision
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held in a prior decision that an indirect employment relationship, standing alone, does not present a presumption of prejudice that would require the disqualification of the potential juror: “[a]n indirect employment relationship will require removing a potential juror for cause [if] the juror believes that the outcome of the case could have a financial impact upon his or her employer. When it is apparent that there is a common employer between a juror or a juror’s close family member and a party defendant, and that juror believes that the employer would be affected by the outcome of the case, the trial court must remove the juror for cause.”
The Pennsylvania Superior Court stated that in the present case, the juror was not employed by the defendant hospital or any of its subsidiaries: the juror was employed by a company that did business with doctors and therapists who had privileges at the defendant hospital. There was no evidence that any of these doctors were employed by the defendant hospital. Accordingly, the juror did not work for a company that had a direct financial connection to the defendant hospital; rather, the juror’s employer did business with medical professionals who had privileges at the defendant hospital, and therefore there was no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s refusal to strike the juror for cause.
Source Lewis v. Mercy Suburban Hospital, J-A13027-17
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