Superior Court Affirms Initial Jury Verdict & Judgment of the Trial Court in Favor of Hospital

Dec 12, 2023 | News

Plaintiff brought this medical professional negligence action against our client (the Hospital), alleging that the Hospital’s emergency room staff was negligent in treating her late husband. The record established that the decedent was in distress when he presented to the hospital’s emergency room, suffering from, among other things, chest pains and shortness of breath. He was treated immediately by the ER staff and, after about an hour, showed significant improvement. The ER nurse then left the room where decedent was being treated in order to consult with the attending ER physician concerning the Decedent’s continued treatment. When she returned approximately 12 minutes later, she found that the decedent had “coded.” Decedent passed away approximately 12 hours later.

In her complaint, Plaintiff alleged the Hospital was institutionally liable for corporate negligence, and was also vicariously liable as a result of the actions of the Hospital’s employee, the nurse who treated decedent in the ER. At trial, Plaintiff introduced expert testimony from a doctor who opined that the Hospital was institutionally negligent, causing decedent’s death. Our trial team, Stuart O’Neal and Marcy Tanker, moved for a nonsuit on Plaintiff’s claim of corporate negligence, arguing that the Plaintiff’s expert’s testimony did not establish that the Hospital was guilty of the type of malfeasance typically associated with corporate negligence claims against hospitals. The trial court granted the nonsuit on the corporate negligence claim and the case proceeded to verdict on Plaintiff’s claims of vicarious liability. After 14 minutes of deliberation, the jury found for the Hospital.

Plaintiff appealed. In February 2023, a divided three-judge panel of the Superior Court reversed and remanded for a trial on the corporate negligence claim. Our appellate team, led by Ira Podheiser and Marcy Tanker, sought reargument with the Superior Court, which was granted, and resulted in withdrawal of the original panel opinion. After briefing and argument in front of a nine-judge en banc panel, the Superior Court, in a 5-4 decision issued on December 11, 2023, affirmed the initial jury verdict and judgment of the Trial Court in favor of the Hospital. The Majority opinion found that Plaintiff and her expert witness did not establish the type of “systemic” negligence required for corporate negligence liability to attach to the Hospital. The en banc panel also rejected Plaintiff’s claims concerning the jury verdict form and the short period of time the jury deliberated on the vicarious liability claims.