Thursday, April 15, 2021

Pennsylvania Superior Court Addresses Claims of Corporate Negligence in a Medical Malpractice Case


In the case Ruff v. York Hospital, 2021 Pa. Super. 39 (Pa. Super. March 11, 2021 Shogan, J., Stabile, J., and Murray, J.) (Op. by. Shogan, J.), the court affirmed the lower court's denial of a Plaintiff’s post-trial motions in a medical malpractice case in which a defense verdict was entered. In so ruling, the Pennsylvania Superior Court touched upon a number of different issues pertinent to medical malpractice cases.

The Superior Court emphasized that, in the context of a medical malpractice case, corporate negligence is a doctrine under which a hospital owes a direct duty to its patients to ensure their safety and well-being while the patients are in the hospital.

The Court noted that, in order to establish a claim of corporate negligence, the Plaintiff must show that the hospital had actual or constructive knowledge of the alleged defect or procedures that allegedly created the harm. The court noted that corporate negligence typically involves claims of systemic negligence in the actions and procedures of the hospital itself, rather than any individual acts of its employees.

The Court otherwise ruled that a hospital’s oversight duty does not require that the hospital direct or override a physician’s clinical judgment in any given case.

The Superior Court also found that the jury instructions utilized the trial court on corporate negligence, which conformed to the Suggested Standard Jury Instruction, were adequate.

On an evidentiary issue, the Superior Court ruled that the Plaintiff’s expert was properly allowed to reference a learned treatise as support for the expert’s opinions, but that the Plaintiff was properly precluded by the trial court from placing the learned treatise itself into evidence.

The Superior Court also found that the Plaintiff’s expert was properly precluded by the trial court from offering any opinion that the Defendant’s conduct was reckless. The Superior Court noted that, whether conduct was reckless was to be determined by the jury and was not a proper subject of expert testimony. In this regard, the court noted that expert witnesses are not permitted to render legal opinions and may not offer opinions on whether conduct complied with the law.

As stated, overall, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the Plaintiff’s post-trial motions.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney James M. Beck of the Philadelphia office of the Reed Smith law firm for bringing this case to my attention.

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