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Massachusetts Appeals Court Affirms Defense Verdict in Medical Malpractice Case, Despite Juror’s Comment During Expert Witness’s Testimony

Most Cape Cod medical malpractice cases are settled out of court, but some do proceed to trial. During trial, it is likely that at least a couple of expert medical witnesses will testify, one on behalf of the plaintiff and one on behalf of the defendant.

Because a lot can hinge on the testimony of the parties’ respective witnesses, it is not unusual for evidentiary and procedural issues to arise during this phase of the trial.

It is up to the trial court judge to resolve these issues, subject to review by the appellate court if either party seeks a review of the trial court’s decision(s) in this regard.

Facts of the Case

In a recent Massachusetts medical malpractice case, the plaintiff was the personal representative of the estate of a patient who had been treated by the defendants (a nursing home and its staff) after having had surgery. The plaintiff alleged that, as a result of the defendant’s negligent postoperative treatment, her decedent passed away.

After a five-day jury trial, a verdict was entered in favor of the defendants. The plaintiff appealed, asserting that the trial court judge had committed several reversible errors during the trial.

Decision of the Court

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the trial court’s entry of judgment upon the jury’s verdict in favor of the defendants. The plaintiff argued that the trial court acted improperly with respect to a juror’s comment during the testimony of a certain expert witness, but the appellate court disagreed. The interchange at issue occurred when, in response to an attorney asking the expert witness to locate a certain page of the decedent’s medical records, the juror stated the page number. The juror was admonished to remain silent but was not interviewed, and the trial continued.

During summation, the plaintiff’s attorney made a reference to the incident and asked that the juror be excluded from deliberations because “his outburst indicated bias.” The trial court judge denied the plaintiff’s request. On appeal, the plaintiff urged the appellate court to grant her a new trial because the lower court judge should have questioned the juror about his potential bias and given a curative instruction.

According to the court of appeals, the plaintiff waived these arguments by not having specified the grounds for her objection after the juror interjected and by not requesting a curative instruction or voir dire during the trial. The appellate court also noted that the plaintiff’s attorney had used the juror’s interjection to her favor during closing arguments and that she had failed to offer any evidence of the juror’s alleged bias on appeal. According to the appellate court, the juror’s comment did not reflect inherent bias but, rather, may have simply resulted from impatience or a desire to move the trial along.

Get Legal Advice About a Possible Claim

At the Cape Cod area Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, we handle many types of personal injury and wrongful death cases, including medical malpractice claims. For a free consultation to learn more about the process of asserting your legal rights following an injury or a loved one’s death, call us at 888-262-6664. Both wrongful death and personal injury claims are governed by a strict statute of limitations, so please do not delay in seeking legal advice about your situation.