Iaccino v. Defendant Obstetrician et al.

  • 12/20/2010
    Client: Defendant Obstetrician
    Outcome: Not guilty verdict in first trial and affirmed judgment on jury verdict on appeal

Synopsis:

In this medical negligence case, the mother and father of a child filed a lawsuit against two obstetricians, among others, who assisted with the child's delivery.

The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants were negligent during labor and in the timing of a cesarean section. As a result, plaintiffs claimed, the child sustained brain damage leading to cerebral palsy, severe mental retardation and seizure disorder. At trial, plaintiffs requested in excess of $33 million in damages.

The defendants contended that the obstetricians fully complied with the standard of care. Well-qualified defense expert witnesses refuted plaintiffs' experts' testimony concerning the interpretation of the fetal monitor strips and explained that the obstetricians acted reasonably in monitoring the mother and fetus and proceeding with an appropriately-timed cesarean delivery. In addition, the defense showed that an unpreventable infection produced toxins that caused the child's injuries.

The jury returned a "not guilty" verdict in favor of all of the defendants.

In the appellate court the plaintiffs sought a new trial. They contended that the trial court had abused its discretion in a variety of rulings, including the decision to allow the defendants to present the testimony of a pathologist to refute plaintiffs' causation theory, allowing defendants to challenge plaintiffs' obstetrical expert witness based on a report he had written at the outset of the case that conflicted with his trial testimony, and allowing the defendants to impeach plaintiffs' expert witnesses based on medical literature.

The appellate court rejected all of plaintiffs' arguments and affirmed the judgment for the defendants. The appellate panel agreed with the defendants that the record reflected proper rulings by the trial court in allowing the pathologist to testify, based on the pretrial disclosure of the pathologist's opinions and the plaintiffs' opportunity to present a rebuttal causation expert.

Moreover, the appellate court ruled that the trial court properly allowed cross examination of plaintiffs' obstetrical expert, given his contradictory trial testimony interpreting the fetal monitor strips. This ruling, the appellate court held, was consistent with the general rule that encourages parties to test an opposing expert's testimony with vigorous cross examination and the goal in medical malpractice litigation of eliminating frivolous complaints that are not supported by carefully-considered expert certification.

In its opinion, the appellate court also approved the decision to allow cross examination of the plaintiffs' expert witnesses based on medical literature either established to be authoritative or reviewed by the plaintiffs' medical experts prior to reaching their conclusions.