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A D.C. Court of Appeals decision last week could undermine a 62-year-old District precedent that trial judges are not required to modify requested jury instructions that are erroneous or misleading. The 2-1 decision ordered a new trial in a medical malpractice case and prompted a vigorous dissent from Judge Noel Anketell Kramer to “the majority’s sweeping statements with respect to the obligations of trial judges with respect to jury instructions.” Sardul Pannu, a former chemistry professor at the University of the District of Columbia, and his wife sued Dr. Jeff Jacobson, the Neurological Surgery Group, and the Washington Brain and Spine Institute after back surgery by Jacobson in 2000 left Pannu with permanent nerve damage that causes incontinence. A jury ruled in favor of the defendants, but the appellate decision by Judge Inez Smith Reid and Senior Judge Theodore Newman Jr. found “an abuse of discretion” by D.C. Superior Court Judge Melvin Wright and reversed the judgment. Wright should have modified a misleading jury-instruction request from the plaintiffs related to the law of negligence in a medical malpractice case involving neurosurgery, the decision stated. The majority even crafted a specific jury instruction to be used on retrial. In her dissent, Kramer found no error by Wright and stated the majority’s proposed jury instruction was unnecessary and without precedent “for any professional negligence case in this jurisdiction.”
Brendan Smith can be contacted at [email protected].

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