Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Judge Terrence Nealon of Lackawanna County Addresses Post-Trial Motions in Sedor v. Community Medical Center

On February 22, 2011, Judge Terrence Nealon of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas issued a 69 page opinion addressing the post-trial motions filed in the case of Sedor v. Community Medical Center, et al., No. 2005 CV 2143 (Lacka. Co., Feb. 23, 2011, Nealon, J.).

Judge Nealon aptly summarized his holdings in the first few pages of the Opinion, as follows:

"In the wake of a $3,250,000.00 personal injury award, the solely liable defendant hospital has filed a motion for post-trial relief under Pa. R.C.P. 227.1 and the prevailing plaintiffs have presented a motion for delay damages and post-judgment interest. The hospital requests judgment in its favor and argues that the opinions expressed by the plaintiffs’ experts on causation were so irreconcilably inconsistent that they should be declared legally incompetent to support the jury’s verdict. The hospital alternatively seeks a new trial on the grounds that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence, prejudicial evidentiary errors were committed at trial, and improper jury instructions and special interrogatories were submitted to the jury.

Although two of the plaintiffs’ experts differed as to whether an infection in the male plaintiff’s foot was already present on the date that he was struck with a hospital bed, the hospital is not entitled to JNOV based upon the Mudano rule since all three of the plaintiffs’ causation experts agreed that the male plaintiff’s necrotizing fasciitis and resulting amputation were caused by the bed trauma. Nor was the verdict against the weight of the evidence inasmuch as (a) there was ample evidence to support the conclusion that either CMC or its employee was exclusively liable, and (b) the jury’s compromise verdict on damages reflects that it did consider the male plaintiff’s apparent failure to reasonably mitigate his damages.

As for the evidentiary rulings, it was not an abuse of discretion to allow: (1) plaintiffs’ corporate liability expert to address the hospital’s negligent maintenance of beds since the hospital was not prejudiced by any discrepancy between that expert’s testimony and the plaintiffs’ pleadings; (2) Dr. Sedor to make limited reference to his own medical knowledge when explaining his mitigation conduct; (3) the presentation of a hypothetical question to a defense expert that was based upon an assumption which was supported by the evidence; and (4) the treating physiatrist to testify concerning causation in accordance with his pre-trial reports. The hospital has also failed to establish reversible error in excluding evidence of the male plaintiff’s prior suspension of privileges at another hospital and the ensuing Luzerne County litigation regarding that suspension. Any such evidence was properly precluded pursuant to Pa. R.E. 403 since the defense experts did not opine that the earlier suspension adversely affected the male plaintiff’s employability or future earning capacity and the introduction of that evidence would have injected collateral issues, unnecessarily delayed the trial and potentially caused the jury to decide this personal injury action on an improper basis.

In light of the conflicting evidence submitted by the parties with respect to the cause of the male plaintiff’s harm, the jury instructions on concurring causes and pre-existing conditions were appropriate. Furthermore, the separate damage interrogatories submitted to the jury were authorized by appellate precedent. However, the hospital provided no authority or plausible reason for three special interrogatories on mitigation of damages and it was not an abuse of discretion to deny that request. Therefore, the hospital’s motion for a new trial will be denied. In addition, the plaintiffs’ motion for delay damages and post-judgment interest will be granted to the extent that the plaintiffs will be awarded pre-judgment interest in the amount of $886,953.00 and post-judgment interest of $680.05/day from October 8, 2010 until the date of payment by the hospital."



Anyone desiring a copy of Judge Nealon's Opinion may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

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