A new trial must be held because a judge in a medical malpractice case failed to adequately answer questions from the jury about what evidence it could consider when determining plaintiff’s proper care, an appeals court said.
An Appellate Division, Third Department, panel overturned the defense verdict in Meyer v. Saint Francis Hospital, 523255, ruling that the responses of Ulster County Supreme Court Justice Christopher Cahill “precluded [the jury] from fairly considering a critical issue.”
Justice Christine Clark, writing for the panel, said Cahill did not “fully or adequately answer” questions related to whether, and how, the jury should consider the hospital’s lack of documentation linked to treatment of plaintiff Suzanne Meyer.
Meyer developed bodily pressure sores while staying at Saint Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie following colon perforation surgery.
She and her husband sued and, after losing at trial, argued that Cahill failed to adequately respond to the jury’s request for clarification on the meaning of “care and treatment.”
According to the panel, when Cahill addressed the jury, he “merely stated, ‘Care and treatment includes only the physical treatment and care given. OK? Is that clear?’”
“Jurors were confused as to whether, and in what manner, they were permitted to consider the alleged lack of documentation,” Clark said.
Justices William McCarthy, John Egan Jr., Robert Rose and Eugene Devine joined the ruling.
Michael Hutter, special counsel at Powers & Santola, represented the plaintiffs.
“I think what the court did here is recognize that any time a jury has a question, the [trial] court must really go out of its way to make sure the jury fully understands what is going on and it must try to answer every aspect of the jury’s question,” he said.
Ellen Fischer, a Poughkeepsie attorney who represented the hospital, declined to immediately comment.