The Rhode Island Supreme Court held in its decision dated January 9, 2018 that the trial judge had erred in granting a new trial to a Rhode Island medical malpractice plaintiff where the jury found the defendant physician negligent but that his negligence was not the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s alleged emotional injuries and therefore did not award any damages to the plaintiff.
The Rhode Island Supreme Court stated that a trial judge cannot merely substitute his judgment for that of the jury which was equally reasonable, and, if he does so, that decision must be set aside. The Rhode Island Supreme Court held that the trial judge clearly erred by replacing the jury’s determination with his own, despite the fact that either conclusion was reasonable, and therefore vacated the trial judge’s granting the plaintiff’s new trial motion.
The Rhode Island medical malpractice plaintiff alleged that the defendant physician told her during a medical appointment that blood test results in her file showed that both of her kidneys “are gone” and, in response to the plaintiff’s questioning, stated that he attributed it to her having taken medication for an extended period of time. The plaintiff testified during the Rhode Island medical malpractice trial with regard to her alleged severe emotional distress that she suffered as a result of being told that her kidneys were not functioning, including an extended period of crying and having a self-described “nervous breakdown.” The plaintiff told the jury that her stomach was in knots and that she could not talk, eat, or sleep that night.
The plaintiff testified that the morning after she received the devastating news from the defendant physician, she looked at the paperwork she was given with regard to a scheduled ultrasound appointment and discovered that the paperwork had someone else’s name on it. She called the medical office and asked the receptionist to review her blood test results, which she was told were normal. The plaintiff testified that the defendant physician never apologized to her for the medical error in reporting to her the results of another person’s blood test.
The defendant physician admitted at trial that he had told the plaintiff the blood test results of another patient, but he testified that he did not tell her that she had a kidney problem but rather told her that the blood test results revealed only a minor abnormality and opined that she might have a kidney stone. The defendant physician testified that the plaintiff became upset only when she realized that he would not prescribe her pain medication that day. The defendant further testified that he called the plaintiff and apologized, admitting that he had mistakenly read to her someone else’s lab results. He recalled that the plaintiff was not upset about the results during their phone call but instead was upset that she was without pain medication.
Following the jury rendering a defense verdict, the plaintiff moved for a new trial solely on the issue of damages. The trial judge ultimately concluded that the jury’s verdict was wrong, reasoning that it failed to respond to the merits of the controversy and to administer substantial justice. The trial judge offered the defendants either a new trial on damages and on proximate cause, or an additur in the amount of $1,800. The defendants appealed.
The Rhode Island Supreme Court stated that in granting the plaintiff’s motion for new trial, the trial judge explained that he did so because he found the plaintiff credible and the defendant physician incredible. The Rhode Island Supreme Court agreed with the defendants’ argument that it was reasonable for the jury to find the plaintiff incredible, and thus the trial judge should not have disturbed the verdict because he only expressed his own disagreement with the jury’s credibility determination. The Rhode Island Supreme Court stated: “Based on our examination of the record, we conclude that reasonable minds could differ as to the credibility of those parties.”
Source Aptt v. Cedarz Medical and Cosmedics, Inc., No. 2016-306-Appeal.
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