Complicated medical malpractice verdict is upheld by Court of Appeals
Evangeline Hall sued Caron Warnsby, M.D., Martha Walsh, M.D., Neysa Bartlett, M.D. and Oaklawn Hospital, arguing that they were negligent in treating her. Hall suffered a bowel perforation during surgery. She alleged that the nursing staff's failure to utilize the "chain of command" to respond to her progressive symptoms resulted in the development of sepsis and near-fatal, long-term consequences.Hall's lawsuit went to trial after numerous of the parties rejected the case evaluation recommendation totaling $750,000.00. Ultimately it resulted in a verdict of no cause of action in favor of Dr. Warnsby, but a $3.3 million dollar award against Dr. Bartlett and Oaklawn. Warnsby appealed seeking sanctions and the Oaklawn defendants appealed, arguing there wasn't enough evidence to support the award against its nursing staff.
The Court noted that under the Court Rules, since Hall's verdict was larger than the compiled case evaluation, she was a "prevailing party" and did not owe sanctions to Warnsby for rejecting the original award against him--even though ultimately he was not included in the verdict in Hall's favor. Oaklawn claimed on appeal that Hall had not proved that her damages were exacerbated by the nursing staff's failure to report her symptoms up the chain of command when her surgeon did not respond to them. The Court addressed the specifics of the experts' testimony and confirmed that a reasonable jury could conclude that the failure to take action in response to Hall's worseing symptoms aggravated her condition and signficantly worsened her outcome. It also held that Plaintiff's nurse expert did not exceed her qualifications when she testified that the failure to act on Hall's worsening symptoms delayed her treatment. This did not consitute "medical testimony" on causation; rather it provided a factual foundation for the physician expert's causation testimony.
The unanimous panel also refused to overturn the verdict by reliance on the original surgeon's claim that even if made award of Hall's deteriorating condition he would not have intervened any earlier. The Court pointed to several prior cases where this type of self-serving speculative testimony from one of several co-defendants merely created a question of fact for the jury to resolve, where it is countered by expert testimony establishing a contradictory standard of care.
The case is likely to end up in the Supreme Court, given the large Plaintiff verdict and the fact that it has aspects of "lost opportunity for a better outcome" which thus far the Michigan Supreme Court has been unable to satisfactorily distinguish from traditional malpractice.