$3.5 Medical Malpractice Award Upheld in Washington, DC

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals recently upheld a $3.5 million malpractice verdict after a 12 day jury trial against a Bethesda, Maryland obstetrician/gynecologist and Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, DC. After the verdict against both the doctor and the hospital, Sibley settled with the Plaintiff but the doctor appealed.

The case stemmed from a dilation and curettage (D&C as it is commonly called) during which the OB/GYN inadvertently perforated the Plaintiff’s uterus, causing more than three quarts of toxic bowel content to leak into her peritoneal cavity. The leakage caused her internal organs to be “continually bathed,” as the court called it, in infectious material, which lead to multiple permanent complications.

On appeal, the doctor contended that the verdict sheet was flawed, that there was improper admission of the hospital’s expert testimony, that there was unfair surprise, and that Defendant was entitled to judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

Interestingly, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals found that the verdict sheet was flawed because it did not show which breaches of the standard of care that the jury had found proximately caused Plaintiff’s injuries. The trial judgem somewhat understandably, was trying to make what was already a complicated verdict form less complicated by not adding even more questions for proximate cause. However, the court found this was essentially harmless error, because it did not really matter that the jury did not specify which negligent act was a proximate cause because any of the negligent acts could have been the proximate cause (proximate cause and injury was nailed down in other questions to the jury).

This District of Columbia’s Court of Appeals’ 31 page opinion can be found under Townsend v. Donaldson on the court’s website. If you read the case, one of the things you will find interesting is that the hospital and doctor depart from the usual “malpractice defendants stick together at all costs” game plan to the point there the hospital’s expert expressly opines that the doctor negligently failed to notify the subsequent treating doctor about issues relevant to the care of the patient.

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