Posted by Bill Sandweg on 20 February 2023.
Today’s blog post is about an unusual medical malpractice verdict. The first thing that makes it unusual is that the jury found in favor of the plaintiff. That just does not happen very often. Here in Arizona and across the country, doctors win 85% to 90% of medical malpractice cases that go to trial.
The second unusual thing about the verdict was its size. The jury awarded $43.5 million. That is a lot of money in any case, but especially in a medical malpractice case that did not involve brain damage and the future cost of long-term care.
The third unusual thing about the verdict is that it was an orthopedic surgery case. Orthopedic cases are among the most challenging medical malpractice cases. They usually involve, as did this one, an injury to a joint. This was a knee injury case. There are so many reasons why a patient with a joint injury might not get a good result that have nothing to do with malpractice by the orthopedic surgeon. It is very easy for the jury to conclude that the surgeon did his or her best and that the injury was just too much for the surgeon to be able to repair.
The fourth and final unusual thing may very well explain the other three unusual things. The plaintiff was a member of the Philadelphia Eagles football team, who contended that team physicians mishandled his knee injury and that their missteps cost him the final years of his football career. The case was tried in Philadelphia in the weeks leading up to the recent appearance by the Eagles in the Super Bowl. Former Eagles stars testified what a great guy the plaintiff was and how valuable he had been to the team. In my experience, celebrities, and this man was a celebrity to the Philadelphia jury, get special treatment from juries and are more likely to win their cases than you or I would be under the same circumstances.
When I read the facts of the case, it had all the earmarks of a classic defense verdict. The injury was to a joint. The injury involved a surgery. The plaintiff’s expert was not as well-qualified as the experts who testified on behalf of the defendants. There were questions about whether the injury that ended his career occurred after the surgery in question so that it could not possibly be the fault of the defendants. There were questions about how much longer the player could have remained in the NFL given his age and previous injuries. Lots and lots of issues that usually signal a defense verdict.
The player’s lawyers claimed he would have received an $8 million dollar contract, had the defendants taken proper care of his knee. The jury gave him the $8 million and another $35.5 million. That almost never happens. The jury clearly liked this “local hero” and wanted to do something nice for him.
Order may be restored to the universe, if this case goes up on appeal, as verdicts of this size almost always do. If things finally revert to the usual, the plaintiff will get some money from this, but it will not be the $43.5 million the jury awarded him. It will be some much smaller amount and the reduction in the award will not get anywhere near the publicity the jury’s verdict did. Stay tuned.