The case of Lisa Strong is a tragedy at almost every level from her first encounter with the medical profession to her last encounter with the legal profession. Strong went to the emergency room with what she believed was kidney stones (she had a history of kidney stones). However, due to malpractice, she ultimately lost both legs and arms. Despite the admission of various mistakes by the medical staff, a jury ruled against her. In a rare move, Broward County Circuit Judge Charles M. Greene threw out the jury verdict and ordered a new trial.
Strong’s nightmare began on Sept. 20, 2003 when she found that she could not walk at her job in the mall and her fever went up to 106 degrees. When she arrived at the ER, she told the nurse that she had kidney stones. The doctors, however, never treated her for kidney stones. For the next month, her condition was not treated and her limbs began to turn black. The problem does not appear to be a lack of evidence of malpractice but a difficulty by the jury in deciding who was most responsible. The result, however, was a verdict against Strong.
The two physicians — emergency room Dr. Laurentina Kocik and attending physician Dr. Jason Strong — have pointed fingers at each other. Dr. Strong (no relation) never came into the hospital and ordered treatment over the telephone.
Dr. Strong insists that no one mentioned kidney stones and Kocik admitted that she wished that she had written kidney stones on the chart. Dr. Strong also says that he was not told that the patient was in septic shock and thus ordered treatment for acute cholecystitis, a gallbladder condition unrelated to the kidneys.
It is exceptionally rare to see a verdict for the defense thrown out. Less than one percent of verdicts are thrown out and I cannot remember the last judgment for a defendant thrown up by the Court in such a case. There is a general feeling among judges that courts should not be seen as forcing citizens to go before multiple juries until they are found guilty. In this case, however, Judge Green found that the jury’s decision was “contrary to the law and the manifest weight of the evidence.”
I personally do not see how a jury could come to this verdict and it sounds like a case where the jury was confused and simply gave up in assigning blame to one or both doctors. This is a standard problem in the medical field where there is often multiple actors and sketchy records. Indeed, the court in Ybarra v. Spangard faced such a problem in terms of causation when no doctor or nurse came forward to identify the responsible party or parties in a case of malpractice. The court allowed the case to continue on the basis of the staff as a whole — a response to what is sometimes called the “conspiracy of silence” in the profession.
This case involved multiple actors but no conspiracy of silence. The court clearly believed that there was obvious evidence of malpractice that the jury simply ignored. However, despite my agreement with him, it is unsettling to have defendants forced to go before another jury because the judge does not like the result. On one hand, I do believe that this was a terrible injustice for Strong and I am glad that she is getting a new opportunity to prove her case. On the other hand, the doctors are also entitled to the benefits of a jury decision in their favor and it may be unfair to assume that the jury simply could not chose between them as the guilty parties. The doctors are appealing his ruling.
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