Pennsylvania Record

Friday, November 15, 2019

Doctor victorious in med-mal lawsuit over child's severe skin condition


By Scott Holland | Oct 31, 2019


HARRISBURG — A state appeals court has upheld a ruling that a Pittsburgh doctor was not negligent in treating a child who developed a severe skin condition.

Robert Kirksey Jr. had filed an Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas lawsuit against Dr. Satyanarayana Gedela, along with Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and University of Pittsburgh Physicians, alleging negligent administration of drugs caused him to develop Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, which triggered widespread blisters and scars.

After a jury found in favor of Gedela and his employers, Kirksey appealed to the Superior Court. Judge Jack Panella wrote the opinion issued Oct. 9. Judges Victor Stabile and Maria McLaughlin concurred.

On appeal, Kirksey said the defendants violated a pretrial order requiring them to identify the origin of their evidence, specifically accusing them of misquoting an expert. Kirksey said that should entitle him to a new trial. 

The panel disagreed, saying Kirksey tried “to shoehorn his objection regarding the content” into an argument about its source, when the source was undisputed. The argument over the content was appropriate for the trial itself, Panella wrote.

The panel further rejected Kirksey’s arguments about admissible evidence because it determined his objection was to the way the defense presented information he had introduced, while other of his arguments were misinterpretations of the defense’s trial arguments. It likewise shot down his allegations of court error regarding Gedela’s conduct and jury instructions.

“We cannot find the court abused its discretion in permitting (the defendants) to introduce evidence of the risk of rash as part of establishing the standard of care,” Panella wrote. “The only evidence pertaining to the risk of rash was introduced to show Gedela’s own awareness of the potential side effects.”

Kirksey also called for a new trial because one of the jurors failed to disclose she had admitting privileges at UPMC hospitals and had been a family doctor at a UPMC facility. The panel said the juror did disclose her professional history as well as her current job at a competing hospital.

“Even if Kirksey had demonstrated such a relationship, UPMC itself is not one of the parties in this action,” Panella wrote, saying Kirksey only sued the children’s hospital and not the entire network. “We are entirely unconvinced that Kirksey has shown a sufficiently close enough relationship exists to warrant a presumption of prejudice,” the judge ruled.

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