Superior Court affirms ruling for Hershey Medical Center in malpractice claim

By Tomas Kassahun | Apr 4, 2019

HARRISBURG - The Superior Court of Pennsylvania has affirmed a trial court’s ruling against a couple who sued Penn State Hershey Medical Center for alleged medical malpractice.

According to the March 12 opinion, Shaun and Lori Bitner brought the lawsuit alleging complications from Shaun Bitner’s March 2014 back surgery and post-operative care. The lawsuit alleges that Dr. Jonas Sheehan treated Bitner’s back after he had been experiencing lower back pain and radiating bilateral leg pain for years and was not able to manage the pain long-term with epidural injections. 

“The Bitners sought damages for medical expenses, work loss and loss of earning capacity, pain and suffering, loss of life’s pleasures and future losses,” the opinion stated.

The couple alleged Bitner was put on a high dose of pain medication after the surgery, but he experienced excruciating headaches and, in a matter of days after surgery, became unable to walk.

The court said the Bitners failed to prove any actual prejudice or surprise from the testimony of defense expert Dr. Paul M. Arnold as they had alleged and failed to prove any bad faith or willfulness by the defendants. 

According to the opinion, the Bitners also argued the trial court impermissibly allowed Dr. Rajiv Gupta, a neuroradiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, to testify when his opinions went beyond the scope of his expert report. 

The court said that claim is waived because the plaintiffs didn’t object to Gupta testifying either in their pre-trial motions in limine or at trial, which took place in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas.

The Bitners next argued the court erred in granting defendants’ motion in limine that precluded plaintiffs from presenting testimony regarding conversations plaintiffs had with several of their health care providers, the opinion stated.

“Plaintiffs cannot now complain that the court improperly precluded these statements and conversations when they specifically agreed not to admit them via court order,” the opinion stated.

The court said the couple also claimed that none of the Hershey Medical Center employees involved in Bitner’s case had an independent recollection of what occurred and, as a result, testified only about their normal routine or habits in such circumstances. 

According to the opinion, there was no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s admission of such evidence.

The court said the couple claimed that Bitner’s medical records “would have assisted the jury to find that there was arachnoiditis caused by CSF in the arachnoid, disputing defendants’ argument that there was no CSF leak and no arachnoiditis, and thus no negligence.” 

“Because the jury determined that Dr. Sheehan was not negligent, damages was never an issue put before the jury for deliberation,” the opinion stated. “Therefore, any error on the trial part to exclude the evidence was harmless error.” 

The Superior Court also said the trial court didn’t err in failing to allow the couple to amend their complaint to add additional claims based upon plaintiffs’ expert reports. 

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