Wisconsin Supreme Court Holds Up Verdict in Favor of Doctor
The Wisconsin Supreme Court voted unanimously in favor of a physician who was sued for medical malpractice after a jury came back with a judgment in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff claimed that the doctor did not accurately trace a baby’s heart rate during the delivery resulting in injuries to the baby who was born with permanent neurological injuries.
Before the jury began deliberating, the judge issued instructions concerning alternative methods that indicated that the physician was not negligent if the jury found that she had used reasonable care, skill, and judgment when monitoring the baby’s heart rate. The jury returned a not-guilty verdict and the plaintiffs appealed the case. The appellate court found in favor of the plaintiffs and remanded the case to the lower court for a new trial. However, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overruled the appellate court decision and reinstated the jury’s verdict leaving the plaintiff out of opportunities to get their case heard.
The Role of Expert Witnesses in this Case
This is where it gets complicated. The plaintiff contended that the use of an external monitor to gage the baby’s heart rate was less effective than other available methods. Further, had these methods been used, the doctor would have realized that the baby’s heart rate was low and the baby was likely oxygen-deprived. The doctor never used these methods resulting in neurological damage to the baby.
Two (of the 16) expert witnesses, however, testified that the heart monitor was accurately reporting the baby’s heart rate and that it was reasonable for the physician to keep using the monitor rather than switching to some other more invasive (and more accurate) device.
The doctor requested an “alternative method” jury instruction and the plaintiffs objected on the grounds that continuing the use of the monitor was not an “alternative”. The judge agreed with the defendants and the plaintiff lost the case.
On appeal, the appellate court agreed with the plaintiff that the alternative method jury instruction was not warranted and the case should be retired.
Case Goes Before Supreme Court
The defendants appealed the appellate court ruling and the case found its way before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Because the experts disagreed on whether the use of the baby monitor was actual negligence and whether the doctor should have used other methods, the Supreme Court sided with the doctor in a unanimous vote.
The vote was based on a prior case involving a doctor who failed to order a spinal tap even though a child was exhibiting signs of spinal meningitis. In that case, the experts were unanimous that only one diagnostic test existed and that the doctor should have used it. In this case, since there are multiple ways of testing fetal heart rate, the doctor made the same choice many doctors would have made.
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