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Maryland Appeals Court Rules On Jury Instructions In Medical Malpractice Trial

An appeals court in Maryland recently ruled that a judge’s instructions to a jury were not improper in a trial at a lower court. Justice Robert N. McDonald stated that “the court’s instructions were not misleading and there was no probable prejudice” that would justify nullification of the verdict. The jury had ruled that Dr. Reginald Davis had been negligent when he performed surgery on Mark Armacost. Counsel for Dr. Davis contended that the court had improperly given instructions regarding negligence and causation prior to explaining the concept of the standard of care.

Second Set of Jury Instructions

Later on, in the deliberations, the jury seemed to be at a potential deadlock. The defense alleges that the judge was “coercive” when he instructed the jury. The judge encouraged jury members to reconsider the other member’s views while still maintaining their own opinion. This is a concept known as instructing the jury using a “modified Allen charge” statement or explanation. The judge further explained to them that they had roughly another hour to deliberate. The appeals court found that the judge could have “phrased” the instructions in a better way; however, the jury was not misled.

Medical Malpractice Allegations

Mr. Armacost sought care from Dr. Davis complaining of numbness in the hands and pain within the neck and shoulder areas. Dr. Davis suggested that a surgical procedure be performed. Davis removed discs from Armacost’s back that was believed to be the source of the pain and fused vertebrae in the neck region. Shortly after the procedure, the area of the back that had been operated on became infected. Armacost was hospitalized for a period, experienced neck pain, and was left with a very restricted range of motion.

Directions to Jury in a Trial

In a jury trial, the judge is responsible for giving the jury instructions that pertain to the following:

  • Key aspects of the law including the standard of evidence, witness credibility, and expert witness testimony
  • The issues that the jury will make a decision on
  • The process and expectations involving deliberations
  • Other miscellaneous “housekeeping” matters such as the timing of the process, the process for juror questions, and more

Lengthy Trial

On the second day of the trial, one juror requested to be excused from the jury. The juror claimed that this was necessary to assist an elderly relative, but this request was denied. After an additional request, this juror was excused on the third day of trial. On that day, several jurors expressed “concerns” regarding the length of the trial. The judge encouraged the jurors to fulfill their duties and emphasized that the case would move along efficiently.

Jury Trials in Cases of Medical Malpractice

Actions of medical malpractice tend to move at a slow pace. Plaintiffs typically file claims of medical malpractice approximately 16.5 months after an alleged incident of medical negligence. These matters last for nearly 28 months before being resolved. The vast majority of cases involving medical malpractice do not progress to a jury trial. Current estimates suggest that merely 7% are decided by a jury. The plaintiff prevails roughly 21% of the time in jury trial cases.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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