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.
The court rejected the defendant’s argument, holding that the trial court’s instructions may not have been perfect, but were not misleading and did not prejudice the defendant. The court explained that the medical malpractice instruction is derived from the traditional negligence instruction necessitated by the fact that jurors may not have a deep understanding of medical issues. That being the case, the court determined that the instructions provided by the trial judge were not incorrect or misleading.
The court went on to explain that, regardless of whether the instructions were improper, the defendant failed to show that he was prejudiced by the instruction. The court explained that an improper jury instruction is not automatically considered reversible error; the party claiming error must also establish that they were prejudiced by the court’s error. Because the defendant could not show he was prejudiced by the court’s instruction, he could not prevail on appeal even if the instructions were given in error.
Have You Been the Victim of Maryland Medical Malpractice?
If you or a loved one has recently been the victim of medical malpractice, you may be entitled to financial compensation through a Maryland medical malpractice lawsuit. At the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC we have decades of experience helping injury victims and their families obtain compensation for the injuries they have endured. To learn more about how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation against the providers responsible for your injuries, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.
More Blog Posts:
Not All Maryland Liability Release Waivers Are Enforceable, Maryland Accident Law Blog, January 2, 2019.
The Issue of Government Immunity in Maryland Personal Injury Cases, Maryland Accident Law Blog, January 16, 2019.