Court: “Cumulative” Errors Deprived Defendants of Right to Fair Trial

Medical malpractice lawsuits are rarely quick or simple. A malpractice claim involves presenting complex issues of fact and law to a jury. In addition, malpractice defendants–i.e., doctors and hospitals–are generally in a position to vigorously contest every part of a plaintiff’s malpractice case. So even if the plaintiff prevails at trial, there’s a good chance the defense will appeal, extending the legal process even further.

Unfortunately, sometimes defendants manage to convince an appeals court to throw out a jury verdict in favor of a malpractice victim. This happened in a recent Cleveland medical malpractice case, Daniels v. Northcoast Anesthesia Providers, Inc.. The underlying allegations were fairly straightforward: The defendants, two anesthesiologists, placed a transdermal patch on the plaintiff, who had just undergone surgery. The patch contained drugs that triggered an allergic reaction in the plaintiff. She went into anaphylactic shock, stopped breathing, and sustained permanent brain damage. The plaintiff subsequently sued the defendants for medical malpractice, alleging she disclosed the drug allergy in question prior to surgery.

There was a jury trial. The jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her damages. The defendants appealed to the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals. Before the appeals court, the defendants cited ten separate errors allegedly made by the trial court.

The eighth district ultimately agreed with the defense with respect to four of these errors. The court then said that while these errors were minor in and of themselves, their “cumulative effect” was enough to deprive the defendants of their right to a fair trial. The Eighth District therefore threw out the jury’s verdict and ordered a new trial.

So what were these errors? Here is a brief rundown:

  • The plaintiff introduced into evidence a report prepared by a nurse who summarized the plaintiff’s medical records. The Eighth District held this summary “was not an accurate representation of her medical records” and improperly contained the nurse’s own opinions and notes.
  • The trial judge refused the defense’s request to instruct the jury that just because the plaintiff suffered a “bad result”–i.e., brain damage–that alone did not prove medical malpractice. The Eighth District said there was “no reason for the court to refuse the requested instruction,” as that was an accurate statement of Ohio law.
  • An expert witness called by the plaintiff testified “with the aid of a demonstrative chart titled ‘Harms and Losses.’” The defense objected to this chart. The trial judge improperly overruled the objection, the Eighth District said. Such “pedagogical devices” effectively organize evidence for the jury and should only be admitted with the consent of both sides–and “even then” the judge must issue “a limiting instruction that the device is not evidence.”
  • Finally, as noted above, the cumulative effect of the previous three errors justified a new trial. The Ohio Supreme Court previously adopted the cumulative error rule for criminal appeals, but the Eighth District said it has long applied the same rule to civil cases–although it noted there other Ohio appeals courts that do not.

Speak with a Cleveland Medical Malpractice Lawyer Today

As you can see, a trial is often just the first stage in the lengthy process of pursuing a medical malpractice case. While this may seem daunting, an experienced Cleveland medical malpractice lawyer can help you every step of the way. Contact Tittle & Perlmuter at (216) 308-1522 if you need help today. We serve clients in Cleveland, Elyria, Lakewood, Chardon and Sandusky.

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