Can a Jury Find a Doctor Negligent But Still Award Zero Damages for the Patient’s Pain and Suffering?

In medical malpractice cases, victims may seek compensation for not only their economic losses–such as their medical bills–but also their non-economic damages, which typically include the pain and suffering arising from the healthcare provider’s negligence. Most of the time, if a jury finds the provider negligent and awards economic damages, it will also award some form of non-economic damages as well.

Appeals Court: Jury Could Infer Surgery, Not Surgical Error, Caused Deceased Patient’s Suffering

It is possible for a jury to award zero damages for pain and suffering even when the evidence demonstrates there was medical malpractice. A recent decision from an Ohio appeals court in Washington County, Herceg v. Lifson, offers an example of just such a scenario. In this medical malpractice lawsuit, a jury held a doctor’s medication error led to the death of a patient. But the jury simultaneously held that no award for pain and suffering was justified.
Here is some background on the case. The victim was a woman who suffered from bladder cancer. She required multiple surgeries to treat the cancer. During one of these surgeries, which took place in September 2015, the defendant physician administered the wrong antibiotic to the victim, which caused her to “become septic and die,” according to court records.
The victim’s daughter, acting as next-of-kin and executrix of her mother’s estate, subsequently filed a wrongful death and survival action against the defendant. In Ohio, a wrongful death claim is brought by the beneficiaries of a victim, while the survival action is made on behalf of the deceased victim. The latter allows a jury to award pain and suffering damages.
After a trial, a Washington County jury agreed the defendant was negligent, and that his negligence “was the proximate cause” of the victim’s death. In accordance with this verdict, the jury awarded approximately $57,000 in economic damages. However, the jury awarded zero damages for victim’s pain and suffering and the “mental anguish” of the victim’s family.
The executrix appealed, arguing the zero-damages awards went against the evidence presented at trial. The Court of Appeals disagreed. It held the jury could have found the victim’s pain and suffering following the operation could have been caused by “other factors” unrelated to the defendant’s prescription error. For instance, based on the medical testimony, the jury could have believed it was the surgery itself that caused the victim’s pain in her final hours.

Contact the Cleveland Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Tittle & Perlmutter Today

While the Court’s decision may still sound a bit illogical, it is critical to understand how Ohio law works in this area. All personal injury claims rely on proof of causation–i.e., connecting a victim’s loss with the defendant’s negligence. Defense attorneys will make every effort to identify some other cause that shifts the blame away from their client. That is why you need to work with an experienced Cleveland medical malpractice attorney who will help you build the strongest case possible for causation.
Call Tittle & Perlmutter today at (216) 308-1522 if you, or someone you love, has been a victim of malpractice and you would like to learn more about your legal options.

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