Among a judge’s many roles is the responsibility to instruct the jury on the applicable law of the case. Generally speaking, a judge has discretion in how the jury is instructed; however, a judge’s instructions must accurately state the law. A recent Maryland medical malpractice case presented to the Maryland Court of Appeals illustrates the broad discretion trial judges have when deciding how to instruct the jury.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff visited the defendant doctor, complaining of numbness in two of his fingers. The doctor recommended surgery, and the plaintiff agreed. The defendant doctor performed the surgery, however, afterward the plaintiff developed a serious infection at the surgical site. The infection resulted in long-term pain and a reduced range-of-motion.
The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant doctor. After the conclusion of both party’s evidence, the trial judge instructed the jury on several issues, including the law governing the plaintiff’s medical malpractice claims against the defendant. The court began by providing the jury with the general negligence instructions, and the followed with the more specific medical malpractice instructions on the issue of informed consent. The defendant objected to the judge providing the general negligence instructions, arguing that it only misled the jury because the plaintiff’s case was not based on a theory of traditional negligence.