Massachusetts Appellate Court Discusses When Jury Instruction Is Necessary

Judges have many duties when they oversee a personal injury trial. One of a judge’s most important roles is to make evidentiary rulings to ensure that the jury considers only relevant and probative evidence. This requires a judge to apply the rules of evidence to determine which evidence is admissible and which evidence is not admissible.

GavelOften, there is considerable litigation over the admissibility of evidence. In some cases, evidence that is very favorable to a party may not be admitted before the jury. When this is the case, that party is prohibited from referring to that evidence at all. A party’s reference to inadmissible evidence or a party’s improper comment on admitted evidence may require the judge to provide a curative instruction to the jury. In a recent medical malpractice case, the plaintiff took issue with the judge’s curative instruction after the plaintiff’s counsel made what the judge determined to be an improper comment.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the parents of a young child who suffered serious birth injuries and died within a few minutes of being born. The plaintiffs filed a medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuit against the physicians who cared for the baby’s mother during her delivery. Essentially, the plaintiffs claimed that the defendants failed to correctly monitor the baby’s heart rate and waited too long to perform a necessary cesarean section.

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Massachusetts High Court Adopts the “Continuing Course of Treatment” Doctrine in Medical Malpractice Cases

Medical Malpractice – “Continuing Course Of Treatment” Doctrine

Last year, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts issued a written opinion in a medical malpractice case that required the court to discuss the continuing course of treatment doctrine as it applies to late-filed medical malpractice cases. The court ultimately determined that the doctrine does apply under Massachusetts law, but it only tolls a statute of limitations up to the point at which the allegedly negligent physician stops treating the patient.

The Continuing Course of Treatment Doctrine

Medical malpractice cases must be filed within a certain period of time, or by law, the court must dismiss the case. These time limits are called statutes of limitations. Generally speaking, a statute of limitations begins when the cause of actions accrues, meaning when the negligent medical act is performed. However, in some cases, a patient may not realize that they have been a victim of medical malpractice until months or years later.

In situations in which a patient does not immediately realize their injuries, there is an exception to the statute of limitations, and it may be extended or “tolled.” Under this exception, a statute of limitations will not start until the plaintiff realizes that they have been injured.

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