The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently declined a defendant's appeal of the highest medical malpractice verdict in Philadelphia history. The case illustrates the serious ramifications of a medical negligence lawsuit.
The case began in 2008. A former patient at the Neurological Institute at Pennsylvania Hospital filed the suit after his doctor apparently misdiagnosed him. The doctor claimed that the patient had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis -- Lou Gehrig's disease -- a condition about which little is known and is nearly untreatable. The patient actually suffered from a spinal cord compression, a treatable condition. Because the man's spinal cord compression went undiagnosed and was not properly addressed, he ultimately lost his ability to walk.
After a trial, the jury awarded a nearly $10 million verdict for the patient against the doctor, who misdiagnosed him. This is the highest verdict -- nearly double the next highest medical malpractice verdict. The doctor decided to appeal the verdict. The Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal.
This medical malpractice case is quite sensational in light of the high verdict, but it teaches important lessons about possible liability for medical professionals. Specifically, most cases proceed against doctors under a theory of negligence. Plaintiffs attempt to show that doctors were negligent in treating them.
To be successful with such a claim, plaintiffs have the burden of demonstrating the following elements: (1) the plaintiff shared a doctor-patient relationship with the doctor; (2) the doctor had a duty of care based on this relationship; (3) the doctor deviated from the standard of care; and (4) the deviation resulted in an injury to the patient.
If plaintiffs are successful in proving these elements, a jury may then find it appropriate to award damages for their injuries. In this case, the jury concluded that nearly $10 million was appropriate compensation for the patient's damages and suffering.
Source: The Daily Pennsylvanian, "Court declines to hear Penn's lawsuit appeal," Harry Cooperman, Sept. 22, 2013