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CORRIGAN v. METHODIST HOSPITAL
November 6, 2002
METHODIST HOSPITAL, SANDORD DAVNE, M.D. AND DONALD MYERS, M.D.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Curtis Joyner, United States District Judge
This medical malpractice action is now before this Court for
disposition of the post-trial motions of Defendants Sanford Davne, M.D.
and Donald Myers, M.D. to alter/amend the judgment and for a new trial.
For the reasons which follow, the motion to amend shall be granted but
the motion for new trial is denied.
Plaintiff, Judy Corrigan, brought this suit against Drs. Davne and
Myers on March 4, 1994 for their alleged negligence in implanting pedicle
screws and rods during spinal surgery which they performed on her on
March 5, 1992. Plaintiff also alleged that the defendant doctors failed
to obtain her informed consent to the procedures which they performed on
that date and that they were further negligent in failing to diagnose a
tumor (meningioma) on her thoracic spine, which had to be removed at a
Following a two-week trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the
plaintiff and against the defendant doctors in the amount of $400,000.
Liability was apportioned at 60% to Dr. Davne and 40% to Dr. Myers.
Defendants thereafter moved to
alter and/or amend the judgment and for a new trial.*fn2
Standards for New Trial and to Alter Judgment
It is well-settled that the ordering of a new trial is a matter
committed to the sound discretion of the district court. Bonjourno
v. Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp., 752 F.2d 802, 812 (3d Cir.
1984), cert. denied, 477 U.S. 908, 106 S.Ct. 3284, 91 L.Ed.2d 572
(1986). Indeed, Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a) states in relevant part:
(a) Grounds. A new trial may be granted to all or any
of the parties and on all or part of the issues (1) in
an action in which there has been a trial by jury, for
any of the reasons for which new trials have
heretofore been granted in actions at law in the
courts of the United States. . .
A court may grant a new trial if doing so is required to prevent
injustice or to correct a verdict that was against the weight of the
evidence. Ballarini v. Clark Equipment Co., 841 F. Supp. 662, 664
(E.D.Pa. 1993), aff'd, 96 F.3d 1431 (3d Cir. 1996). A court may also
grant a new trial if the verdict was the result of erroneous jury
instructions, was excessive or clearly unsupported by the evidence or was
influenced by extraneous matters such as passion, prejudice, sympathy or
speculation. Lightning Lube v. Witco Corp., 802 F. Supp. 1180, 1186
(D.N.J. 1992), aff'd, 4 F.3d 1153 (3d Cir. 1993).
A new trial, however, cannot be granted merely because the court would
have weighed the evidence differently or reached a different verdict.
Markovich v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc., 805 F. Supp. 1231, 1235
(E.D.Pa. 1992), aff'd, 977 F.2d 568 (3d Cir. 1992). See Also: Olefins
Trading, Inc. v. Han Yang Chemical Corp., 9 F.3d 282, 289 (3d Cir.
1993); Sandrow v. United States, 832 F. Supp. 918 (E.D.Pa. 1993).
Previous courts have warned that a court must refrain from interfering
with the jury's verdict unless it is clear that the jury has reached a
seriously erroneous result. Lillis v. Lehigh Valley Hospital, Inc., 1999
U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13933, *11 (E.D.Pa. 1999). Thus, a new trial may be
granted only where a miscarriage of justice would result if the verdict
were to stand. Id., citing Williamson v. Consolidated Rail Corp.,
926 F.2d 1344, 1352 (3d Cir. 1991). Absent a showing of substantial
injustice or prejudicial error, a new trial is not warranted and it is
the court's duty to respect a plausible jury verdict. Montgomery County
v. Microvote Corp., Civ. No. 97-6331, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8727 at *26
(E.D.Pa. June 25, 2001), citing Goodwin v. Seven-Up Bottling Co. of
Philadelphia, No. 96-2301, 1998 WL 438488 at *3 (E.D.Pa. July 31, 1998).
On the other hand, motions to alter and/or amend judgment are generally
made pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) and must rely on one of three major
grounds: (1) an intervening change in controlling law, (2) the
availability of new evidence not available previously, or (3) the need to
correct clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice. North River
Insurance Co. v. CIGNA Reinsurance Co., 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir.
1995). Indeed, a Rule 59(e) motion is not designed to permit a party to
raise new issues previously available but not raised prior to entry of
judgment . . ., nor are Rule 59(e) motions designed to
allow a party to
present additional evidence as a basis for relief. Falkenberg Capital
Corp. v. Dakota Cellular, Inc., 925 F. Supp. 231, 243 (D.Del. 1996),
citing, inter alia, Kiewit E. Co. v. L & R Construction Co.,
44 F.3d 1194, 1204 (3d Cir. 1995) and United States v. Accounts Nos.
3034504504 and 144-07143, 971 F.2d 974, 987 (3d Cir. 1992).
A. Admission of Nurse Patterson's expert testimony.
Defendants first object to the Court's admission of the expert
testimony of Terri S. Patterson, R.N., M.S.N.C.R.R.N. Specifically, they
contend that Nurse Patterson's testimony concerned Plaintiff's future
medical treatment and therefore involved a "medical diagnosis," which is
outside the expertise of a professional nurse.
Fed.R.Evid. 702 outlines the parameters under which expert testimony
may be admitted in the district courts. Pursuant to that rule,
If scientific, technical, or other specialized
knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand
the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a
witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill,
experience, training, or education, may testify
thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1)
the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data,
(2) the testimony is the product of reliable
principles and methods, and (3) the witness has
applied the principles and methods reliably to the
facts of the case.
There are thus three intertwined bases for excluding testimony under
Rule 702: (1) if the testimony will not assist the trier of fact; (2) if
scientific evidence is not sufficiently reliable; and (3) if the
particular expert does not have sufficient specialized knowledge to assist
the jurors. Petruzzi's IGA Supermarkets, Inc. v. Darling Delaware, Inc.,
998 F.2d 1224, 1238 (3d Cir. 1993). If expert testimony is overly
confusing or more prejudicial than probative, then it also can be
excluded under Rule 702. Id. The determination of the competency of an
expert witness rests with the broad discretion of the district court,
whose action is to be sustained unless manifestly erroneous. Aloe Coal
Co. v. Clark Equipment Co., 816 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir. 1987), citing,
inter alia, Salem v. United States Lines Co., 370 U.S. 31, 35, 82 S.Ct.
1119, 8 L.Ed.2d 313 (1962) and Caisson Corp. v. Ingersoll-Rand Co.,
622 F.2d 672, 682 (3d Cir. 1980). As a general rule, federal courts have
maintained a liberal policy of admitting expert testimony because once
the court decides that the expert's testimony would be helpful to the
jury, the jury is entitled to evaluate the testimony. Montgomery County
v. Microvote Corporation, 152 F. Supp.2d 784, 798 (E.D.Pa. 2001).
Under the Professional Nursing Law, 63 P.S. § 211, et. seq., the
"practice of professional nursing"
means diagnosing and treating human responses to
actual or potential health problems through such
services as casefinding, health teaching, health
counseling, and provision of care supportive to or
restorative of life and well-being, and executing
medical regimens as prescribed by a licensed physician
or dentist. The foregoing shall not be deemed to
include acts of medical diagnosis or prescription of
medical therapeutic or corrective measures, except as
may be authorized by rules and regulations ...