Judge upholds verdict in medical malpractice case

Jon Campisi Oct. 17, 2011, 7:12am

The estate of a man who died from post-surgical complications following the removal of his gallbladder that was awarded $400,000 after a January jury trial will receive the full compensation, this after a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge denied one defendant’s motion for post-trial relief.

In an opinion released by the court Oct. 14, Judge Frederica A. Massiah-Jackon ruled that plaintiff Caleah N. Felder, administratrix of the estate of the deceased Cornel Felder, will be awarded a $100,000 judgment against Andrew H. DeMichele, a doctor who was found to be 25 percent causally negligent in Felder’s May 2007 death.

DeMichele’s lawyers had a filed post-trial motion contesting his portion of the liability.

Felder, who was 54 years old, died a day after he underwent laparoscopic surgery to remove his gallbladder. The cause of death was subsequently found to be “massive intraperitional bleeding due to post-operative complications.”

In September 2008, Felder’s estate filed a lawsuit against DeMichele, another doctor, Methodist Hospital and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

The jury returned the plaintiff’s verdict after a one-week trial this January. In August, attorneys for DeMichele filed a post-trial motion, claiming that the verdict was excessive, and should be reduced or vacated by the court. The motions were denied and the defendant appealed.

“The record does not support these contentions,” the judge’s ruling states. “The jury’s decision reflects ample evidence of the pain, suffering and discomfort of Cornel Felder’s post operative course … that is, bleeding on the sheets, severe pain which was not responsive to morphine or intravenous narcotics, weakness, guarding and rebound.”

In her opinion, Judge Messiah-Jackson cited the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which held that when a plaintiff’s verdict is supported by the evidence, an order of the court modifying it is an “abuse of discretion.”

“There are many tangible and intangible items of damages properly considered by the jurors under the Survival Act,” the ruling states. “The jury recognized that this Defendant was not solely responsible for Mr. Felder’s death. This Court concludes that the jury’s verdict was fair, thoughtful and reasonable.”

DeMichele had also contended that he was entitled to a new trial because, he claimed, the jury was prejudiced by a demonstration presented by plaintiff’s counsel during closing arguments. Defense attorneys had objected to the suggestion made by plaintiff’s counsel that the two liters of fluid found in Felder’s abdomen during the autopsy was the same color as the fluid found in two liters of Pepsi.

The judge, however, ruled this was not an issue for post-trial review, since defense counsel had earlier agreed to the judge’s jury instructions.

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