Court upholds modest jury verdict against William Beaumont Hospital for wrongful death; agrees with Defense argument to reduce; denies family's request to increase award
The family of Crandall Sutton sued a doctor, Robert Jury, and Beaumont after the 81 year-old died of complications following knee surgery. After a trial, the jury awarded the family certain economic damages and one year of non-economic damages. Sutton's undisputed life expectancy, statistically, was 7.6 years and the family argued that it was inconsistent for the jury to fail to make any award for the last five years of "loss of society and companionship." The defense argued that they should have a set-off for collateral source insurance benefits received by the family. The Hospital also argued that the court erred in evidentiary rulings and jury instructions, including the court's refusal to allow into evidence a former employee's deposition.
The Court of Appeals rejected the Hospital's evidentiary arguments, pointing out that the Hospital admitted they were in error in the lower court and unable to document the former witness's unavailability to testify. It also held that the jury instructions were reasonable and fair. The judges rejected the family's argument that it was error to award non-economic damages for only one year ($15,000.00), where the jury recognized and awarded economic losses for the statistical life expectancy. The court relied on prior decisions basically refusing to "second-guess" a jury verdict's consistency. The Court did agree with the Defendant that a hearing should have been held to assess whether any of the $11,000.00 per year of economic loss was covered by another "collateral" source, and to reduce the verdict by the latter amount.