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.

One piece of evidence that was admitted was the charts of the baby’s heart rate. The original charts from the day of the delivery were not available, but copies were presented to the jury for its review. During the plaintiff’s counsel’s opening argument, he commented about the missing charts, explaining “the last people we know that had them are the two defendants in this case. They’re nowhere to be found.”

The defendants asked the court to provide a curative instruction to explain to the jury that the defendants were not responsible for the loss of the charts, and the fact that the charts were not present should not be held against the defendants. The court gave the jury the requested curative instruction. After the trial was complete, the jury found in favor of the defendants.

The plaintiffs filed an appeal, arguing that there were several errors made by the trial judge. One of the alleged errors was the judge’s delivery of the curative instruction. The plaintiffs claimed that the instruction was not necessary and caused undue prejudice. However, the appellate court agreed with the trial judge that the instruction was necessary because the plaintiff’s counsel left the jury with an incorrect impression that the defendants were responsible for the destruction of the evidence. The court ultimately affirmed the jury’s verdict.

Have You Been a Victim of Medical Malpractice?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured due to the negligence of a medical professional, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The skilled injury attorneys at the Law Office of Robert C. Shea have extensive experience in a broad range of personal injury matters, including medical malpractice cases. To learn more about how you may be entitled to compensation for the injuries you have sustained, call 781-844-2042 to set up a free consultation with an attorney today. Calling is free, and we will not bill you for our services unless we are able to help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

See Additional Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Appellate Court Affirms Dismissal of Product Liability Lawsuit Against Birth Control Patch Manufacturer, Brockton Injury Lawyer Blog, February 1, 2017.

Massachusetts High Court Adopts the “Continuing Course of Treatment” Doctrine in Medical Malpractice Cases, Brockton Injury Lawyer Blog, February 22, 2017.