A win at trial is not always the end of the road for plaintiffs. Mistakes at trial can result in personal injury plaintiffs enduring a lengthy appeal process and, in some cases, even a new trial. In a recent case, the Texas Supreme Court ordered a new trial for a Texas medical malpractice plaintiff after the Court found the evidence presented at trial confused the jury.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff had a laparoscopic-assisted vaginal hysterectomy (LAVH) to have her uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes removed. During the surgery, her bowel was punctured, which resulted in serious post-surgical consequences. The surgery was performed by her doctor and a resident.
Before the surgery, the plaintiff signed consent forms, which stated in part that her doctor would treat her, along with “such associates, technical assistants, and other health care providers as they may deem necessary.” It also stated that the physician might require other physicians, “including residents,” to perform tasks “based on their skill set” and under the responsible physician’s supervision. She testified, however, that she was not told that a resident would actually perform part of her surgery.
As it turns out, a third-year resident assisted her doctor. The resident had experience with laparoscopic surgeries and hysterectomies but had not previously assisted with an LAVH surgery. The plaintiff was not aware of this fact before the surgery. The plaintiff testified that she would not have had the surgery done that day if she had known that it was the resident’s first time assisting with an LAVH surgery. The surgeon operated on her right side and demonstrated what to do to the resident. The resident then operated on her left side.
After the plaintiff experienced significant pain and complications post-surgery, she was diagnosed with a bowel perforation on her left side. She experienced additional complications while the perforation was being repaired, which led to her being in a chemically induced coma for three weeks, and she was unable to work for an extended recovery period.
The plaintiff argued that the doctor was negligent in using an inexperienced resident to assist in her surgery and in failing to disclose the resident’s level of involvement. However, she never alleged that the nondisclosure precluded her consent or provided another basis for liability. At trial, the jury was asked only if the surgeon’s negligence proximately caused the patient’s injuries. The court found in the patient’s favor and awarded her almost $2 million.
On appeal, the doctor argued that the jury should not have heard about his failure to disclose the resident’s level of involvement because it was not relevant to the claim. The Texas Supreme Court agreed. It explained that the woman did not claim she did not provide informed consent but nevertheless provided evidence and arguments on that issue during the trial. Since she did not claim that this provided a basis for liability, the evidence and arguments were likely confusing to the jury and should not have been presented. As a result, the court sent the case back for a new trial.
Jury Instructions and Charges
Jury instructions and charges are a fundamental part of any trial. The Texas Supreme Court has stated that it “is fundamental to our system of justice that parties have the right to be judged by a jury properly instructed in the law.” A court must fairly submit the issues to a jury in a way that does not confuse the jury. A jury charge must accurately state the law, cannot openly comment on the weight of the evidence presented, and should not lead the jury to a certain conclusion.
Contact a San Antonio Personal Injury Attorney
If you have been injured, retaining an experienced attorney is essential. At Carabin Shaw, we aggressively represent individuals across Texas who have suffered catastrophic injuries and wrongful deaths. We stand up for victims and will take a case to trial and beyond if an insurance company wrongfully refuses to honor or resolve your claim. With over 200 years of combined experience in Texas medical malpractice law, we are ready to help our clients find solutions to the challenges that arise after a serious incident of negligence. Call us at 1-800-862-1260 or use our online form to set up a free appointment.
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