December 2013 Wrongful Death Law Update

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The Pennsylvania Superior Court, in a unanimous unreported decision, has upheld a $10 million jury award against UPMC Shadyside Hospital in the case of Rettger v. UPMC Shadyside, 614 WDA 2012 (Sup. Ct. November 4, 2013).

The case stems from a jury award of $10 million to the estate of Michael Rettger after he died from a brain herniation at UPMC.  This award was made by the second jury that saw that case after the first jury found negligence but, awarded $2.5 million in wrongful death damages and nothing in survival damages.  This inconsistent verdict led to the trial judge ordering a new trial on damages.

After the second verdict, UPMC appealed claiming that the jury should have been permitted to hear from its expert, Dr. Peter Le Roux, who would testify that if Rettger survived, regardless of UPMC’s negligence, he would have most likely still suffered neurological and neurobehavioral issues that would have prevented him from returning to work as an accountant.  The court rejected this argument finding that evidence in the first trial established that Rettger would have returned to work as an accountant, but for UPMC’s negligence.

UPMC also attempted to claim that the estate attorney made an improper closing argument to the jury when he asked the jury to “send a message” to UPMC.  Ultimately, the court denied all of UPMC’s appellate issues, including its attempt to file a cross-claim against neurosurgeon Bonaroti during the trial.  This is a familiar twist, however, as typically in the medical malpractice cases the defendants all huddle together until trial, at which time they turn on each other to avoid liability in any way they can.  To read the full opinion, please click here.