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Court applies "cap" and reduces award in malpractice wrongful death case

The family of Jeanette Brookshire sued Nancylee Stier, an Internal Medicine specialist, after Brookshire died from complications of lymphoma.  Stier became Brookshire's doctor when she was admitted to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in October of 2000, with symptoms of abdominal bleeding.  The family's medical experts testified that Stier performed an inadequate work-up and thus failed to stabilize Jeanette's conditon before discharging her.  Brookshire died three days after discharge while waiting for further testing to be done.  The jury awarded her family $650,000.00 in compensation against Stier and her practice, but found that several other defendants were not guilty of negligence.  Stier's insurer appealed the outcome, alleging several errors and particularly claiming that the Brookshire family did not prove that Stier's negligence was a "cause" of her death.

The appellate panel found ample evidence of causation to support the jury's verdict and also pointed out that Stier's attorneys had not properly followed the rules in challenging the scientific basis of Brookshire's testimony.  The appellate judges also rejected the defendants' claim that they were prejudiced during the trial by Brookshire's attorney's comment about delays caused by the defendants' attempts to secure summary dispostion.

Nevertheless, the appellate panel also reduced the verdict to the lower statutory ceiling for non-economic damages (approximately $350,000.00 in this case) because the family had not proved that Brookshire suffered a permanent brain injury prior to her death.   The statutory "cap" is higher for certain injuries, including permanent brain damage, than it is for a wrongful death, and  brain damage suffered in the process of dying does not increase the "cap."  The appellate panel also ruled that the medical providers who were not included in the verdict can recover their trial expenses from the family.  This panel of judges, including Henry Saad, had previously upheld the dismissal of the family's case, however, that decision was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2007.

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