A playful and fun snowball fight gone wrong is not typically the type of event that would land someone in a medical malpractice case. However, an unfortunate accident that occurred while two men were goofing off in the winter weather after work quickly ended their merriment. Joseph Hineman, a Delaware resident, was involved in a brief snowball fight with a co-worker while clearing snow from a parking lot. During the wintery fun, Hineman ducked to avoid an oncoming snowball and injured his throat on his truck’s snowplow. Hineman immediately went to see a doctor.
Hineman’s injuries were evaluated by Dr. Paul Imber. Imber took a look at Hineman’s injuries, believed they were nothing serious, and sent him on his way. Hineman came into the office showing some bruising, but not particularly obvious signs of trauma. However, it is common knowledge that the neck or throat is a particularly sensitive area of the body to receive an injury. Imber told Hineman he could simply take some Advil and get rest and his injuries would be fine. Hineman was actually suffering from something insidious and unseen. He had a small puncture at the back of his throat that caused a blockage to his carotid artery. This ultimately led Hineman to suffer a stroke and partial paralysis. This outcome could have been avoided with more tests.
Hineman took Imber to court on claims of medical malpractice and violations of the standard of care. His lawsuit claimed that Imber did not address his injuries and allowed him to leave in unstable condition, and made a decision without checking for damage to the carotid artery or consulting another physician. There was, however, one piece of evidence that severely impacted Hineman’s case: he had consumed marijuana earlier in the day, long before his injuries took place. The defense used this to his detriment. The jury returned in favor of Imber, citing that Hineman’s marijuana used restricted his understanding of his own injuries, and prevented him from describing what was really wrong to his doctor. The case has since been appealed.
Hineman and his attorney, Bruce L. Hudson, have since appealed the case. The case is now being heard by the Supreme Court of Delaware. Hudson argued that the defense repeatedly and excessively brought up Hineman’s marijuana use. This extended beyond the scope of why the marijuana use was introduced. The repeated mentioning of Hineman’s marijuana use strongly and negatively influenced the jury. This caused them to return a negative verdict. In essence, the appeal is going to rest on whether or not the introduction of Hineman’s drug use actually played a role in swaying the jury.
On top of this, the expert medical witness used by the defense was an otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor) who did not have significant experience on marijuana to offer a proper opinion on how the use of the drug may have affected Hineman.