Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers Discuss “Error in Judgment” Defense in Medical Malpractice Cases June 18, 2012
By Debra A. Jensen Esq.
The Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys at Galfand Berger are experienced litigators, well-versed in the law and procedures applicable in the courts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. When it comes to staying abreast of the latest decisions and statutes affecting our clients’ rights, we make it a priority. Recently, we reviewed the controversial “error in judgment” defense at issue in a Pennsylvania medical malpractice case currently on appeal.
Defense to a Medical Malpractice Case: the “Error in Judgment” Doctrine
A medical malpractice claim is based on whether or not a health care provider committed negligence causing injury or harm to a patient. In a medical malpractice scenario, negligence is the failure of a medical professional to provide a reasonable standard of care that a similarly trained professional would employ in the same or similar circumstances. For a successful medical malpractice claim, it must be proven to a judge or jury that a breach in the accepted standard of care occurred, and that the breach resulted in an injury or harm to the patient.
When defending against a medical malpractice claim in the past, health care providers have attempted to employ the doctrine of “error in judgment” to avoid liability. Simply stated, the “error in judgment” rule provides that physicians who give skillful, thorough, and knowledgeable care that is normally provided in their specialty are not liable for a mistake in judgment. Therefore, because a physician is faced with a wide range of judgments while practicing professionally, he or she cannot be held liable for an error in judgment unless it is proven that the error of judgment was the consequence of negligence.
The Status of “Error in Judgment” Defense in Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice Claims
A recent Pennsylvania medical malpractice case has brought attention to the “error in judgment” defense and all eyes are on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as it decides the fate of the doctrine. The case, Passarello v. Grumbine, involves the 2001 death of a 2 month old boy as a result of alleged medical malpractice by his pediatrician. After several office visits, phone calls and medications to address such symptoms not feeding well, crying often, vomiting, coughing, and wheezing, the physician misdiagnosed the baby with gastroesophageal reflux. When the baby experienced severe respiratory distress, he was taken to a hospital where he died. An autopsy later revealed that he had died as a result of acute viral myocarditis, an infection of the heart muscle. In 2009, a verdict was finally reached in favor of the defendants by a jury that had been instructed by the trial judge on the standard of professional negligence as well as the doctrine of “error in judgment.”
While the Passarello v. Grumbine case crawled through the court system, another case involving the “error in judgment” defense was filed and tried in a Pennsylvania court. In that case, Pringle v. Rappaport, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overruled a verdict in a lower court where the “error of judgment” instruction was given to the jury. In doing so, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held the “error of judgment” instruction to be “inherently confusing for juries and thus has no place in medical malpractice cases.” In effect, the “error of judgment” defense to a Pennsylvania medical malpractice claim was nullified by the Pringle v. Rappaport holding. However, by the time the Pringle case was decided, a verdict was already reached in the Passarello case.
The Passarello’s appealed their case arguing that the Pringle holding should be applied to their case and therefore the “error in judgment” instructions were improperly given to the jury in their case. A Pennsylvania Superior Court panel of three judges agreed, finding that the Pringle ruling could be retroactively applied to the Passarello medical malpractice case because the Pringle malpractice lawsuit was filed before the Passarello’s final verdict was reached. A new trial was ordered.
With the latest Passarello decision then appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the “error in judgment” defense is again before the state’s highest court. While the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is now charged with determining whether the retroactive application of the Pringle ruling is appropriate, it may also go so far as to strike down its Pringle ruling entirely, making the “error in judgment” doctrine available as a defense to a medical malpractice claim once again.
Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Galfand Berger: Knowledgeable and Experienced in Medical Malpractice Litigation
The law is dynamic and complex. If you are injured, you deserve a law firm that strives to stay abreast of recent cases and their impact on your case. Only then, can your attorney protect your rights and fight for the financial compensation entitled to you under the law. Galfand Berger is that law firm, with attorneys experienced in all types of personal cases and well-informed in all aspects of Pennsylvania litigation.
If you or a loved one has suffered personal injuries as a result of medical malpractice, contact our Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers. With offices in Philadelphia, Reading, and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, our attorneys are available to meet with clients throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Allentown and Harrisburg, as well as the communities of Camden County, Burlington County, Moorestown, Haddonfield, Cherry Hill, and Collingswood. Call Galfand Berger today at 1-800-222-8792 to schedule a free and confidential consultation or submit a free online inquiry.