The medical malpractice case of Reginald J. Davis v. Mark Armacost was appealed and resulted in the court reversing the prior jury verdict which was in favor of the plaintiff. Dr. Reginald Davis, a neurosurgeon, had been determined to be liable based on a failure to adequately assess the risks of conducting spinal surgery on Armacost. The jury had awarded Armacost $329,000; however, the trial court judge was determined to have improperly delivered jury instructions by suggesting a deadline time for reaching a verdict.
On appeal, a three-judge panel overturned the decision based on a claim that originated following the performance of a procedure known as an anterior cervical discectomy. Following the surgery, Armacost developed an infection and additional problems. The plaintiff claimed that the surgeon should have clearly recognized that the procedure was not appropriate for Armacost based on his current condition. In addition, the panel found an error in jury instruction by implying that the negligence standard of “foreseeable circumstances’ applies to the general public, but not defendants in malpractice actions.
The panel’s opinion was that the instructions themselves regarding negligence and foreseeable circumstances were consistent with Maryland law. The problem is that the jury may not have accounted for the physician’s advanced knowledge and skills in reaching a determination. The appeals court felt that the instructions caused speculation regarding how a layperson would assess the risks of surgery rather than how a trained physician would. This explanation was deemed prejudicial to Dr. Davis because it suggested the jury consider two separate sets of standards for determining the doctor’s choices and actions.
Another consideration on appeal was if the trial court judge acted improperly when he explained to the jurors that if they were unable to reach a verdict, it would lead to a mistrial. He allegedly asked them to resume deliberations for another hour and that they would not be asked to continue the deliberations on the following day. The jury did return a verdict about one-hour after. They stated that explaining the circumstances that lead to a mistrial alone is not improper; however, the discussion regarding “time-frame” likely influenced their actions.
A plaintiff attorney stated that the reversal was erroneous and that they intend to appeal to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. The attorney disagreed with the court’s ruling regarding the judge’s time-limit related remarks and felt that the court was placing the judge’s words under too much scrutiny by considering all possibilities of how his statements could be misinterpreted.
A defense attorney found the trial court judge’s communication with the jury to be “confusing and misleading”. He concurred that the mention of a time-limit to the jury was unacceptable and placed greater emphasis on reaching a verdict quickly, rather than working through the process completely.
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