There’s an expression to the effect that sometimes one can “win the battle, but lose the war.” This can happen in the legal field, including in an east Tennessee medical malpractice case. A recent appellate case from Coffee County is illustrative. A widow won her medical malpractice case against a negligent hospital in the trial court, but the appellate court found an error in an additur to the verdict by the trial court judge.
The war continues, with the next step being a retrial, during which both parties will be allowed to present their respective evidence to a different pool of jurors.
Facts of the Case
The plaintiff in a recent case was the widow of a man who passed away in 2012 while a patient at a hospital owned by the defendant. The man was admitted to the hospital for treatment of kidney stones. By the next morning, his life was in peril; he was not breathing and had to be resuscitated. Unfortunately, the man suffered a brain injury during this time and died a few days later after life support was removed. The widow filed suit in the Circuit Court of Coffee County, alleging that the defendant was vicariously liable for the hospital staff’s negligence and seeking to recover damages for her husband’s injuries and wrongful death. Included in the plaintiff’s complaint were allegations that the defendant failed to establish appropriate procedures for the management of a patient-controlled analgesia pain pump (PCA pump) and failed to educate its employees on the potential effect of opioid therapy on sedation and respiratory depression.
The case was tried to a jury and resulted in a determination that the total damages were $300,000, with the defendant being 51% at fault and the plaintiff, who allegedly administered narcotic medication to the decedent while he was hospitalized, being 49% at fault. The trial court determined that the jury’s damages award was inadequate to compensate the plaintiff and suggested an additur of $1,061,042, including $300,000 for the plaintiff’s loss of spousal consortium. The defendant appealed.
The Court of Appeals of Tennessee’s Ruling
The appellate court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial. In so holding, the court of appeals noted that Tennessee constitutional law guarantees the right to a jury trial in cases such as the one at bar. However, a jury’s verdict is subject to some judicial supervision. The trial court judge serves as a check on the jury as the “thirteenth juror,” independently reviewing and weighing the evidence presented at trial.
While Tennessee Code Annotated § 20-10-101 permits a trial judge to suggest an additur in order to avoid a second trial and to do justice to the parties, additurs that “totally destroy” a jury’s verdict are not permissible. There is not a “formula” to determine when this occurs. Previous case law suggests that an additur of two to four times the jury’s verdict might be permissible, but an additur of 20 times the verdict may not be. Since the additur here resulted in a “substantially and qualitatively different” verdict, the appellate court remanded the case to the lower court for a new trial.
Get Advice About a Possible Act of Medical Negligence
Cases alleging that a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional has fallen short of the standard of care are difficult. Not only are health care practitioners vigorously defended by their malpractice insurance companies’ attorneys at trial, but also a substantial number of potential jurors believe that medical professionals can do no wrong. To pursue fair compensation, a person hurt by a medical error needs an assertive, hard-working medical malpractice attorney. To schedule a free consultation with the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., call us at 865-524-5657. We represent clients throughout the Knoxville and east Tennessee area.
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