Court of Appeals repudiates trial judge's holding that verdict in favor of doctor was against the great weight of evidence
Under the law, if a judge decides that a jury verdict is "against the great weight of the evidence," he or she can order a new trial. After hearing a shoulder dystocia brachial plexus injury case involving a child delivered in Ingham County, the judge ruled that the evidence supporting the verdict in favor of the delivering doctor was simply inadequate to support a verdict in her favor. The judge reluctantly overturned the verdict and ordered a new trial.
The Court of Appeals ruled that in this case, the judge had overstepped his role in setting aside the jury verdict for the doctor. The higher court judges identified testimony that could be interpreted as supporting the doctor's defenses and concluded that the judge had inappropriately engaged in weighing the credibility of the medical witnesses. The doctor had recorded no maneuvers in the chart and the delivery nurses claimed they had no memory of the delivery. The mom and dad--by their description of events--denied that a McRoberts' Maneuver had been performed.
A brachial plexus injury is a partial paralysis of one arm and hand that occurs in fewer that three percent of vaginal births. If it is permanent--usually between 2 and 10 percent of all brachial plexus cases--it is normally attributed to excessive lateral force exercised by the clinician in an attempt to deliver a child whose shoulder has "hung up," however briefly, on the mother's pelvis.
It has been established pretty clearly that a series of maneuvers is appropriate to relieve the obstruction (or "shoulder dystocia") and that if the clinician deliberately follows these maneuvers in a timely manner, 95% percent of patients will be uninjured. Even defense experts concede that failing to perform theses maneuvers is malpractice, although some OBGyns now claim that the injury can occur without fault--regardless of how effectively the maneuvers are used.
Taking into account all of the evidence in the case, the judge concluded that no reasonable person could come to the conclusion that the delivering doctor had met the standard of care in managing Eleanor Oegema's shoulder dystocia. The Court of Appeals, without seeing any witnesses testify or actually hearing the case, concluded the judge's principled decision was erroneous.