So many lawyers are caught up on which judge they draw when they try a case. I’m more worried about the jury than I am the judge. But if you have a case with a lot of close calls on evidence, the judge you draw really does matter. Trial courts generally have wide discretion over evidentiary rulings. So many of the decisions are based on what the judge wants to do, even if 9 out of 10 judges might disagree. Trial judges know in cases where there is an appeal of evidentiary rulings that were made by the trial court, the appeals court will usually not disturb the trial court’s ruling unless the ruling was entirely wrong or the evidence would have changed the outcome. Sometimes, this wide discretion shows in the rulings they make.
A Louisiana appellate court decided last week a case, Kendrick v. North Shore Medical Center, that underscores this discretion. Kendrick is a medical malpractice wrongful death case. The patient’s family was suing the hospital where the patient died.
What happened was the patient gets a procedure to remove his gallbladder but later complains of abdominal pain. A CT scan of the abdomen reveals that the patient had an abdominal mass and hematoma. He gets a diagnostic colonoscopy and an operation to remove the malignant tumor from his colon. However, four days later, the patient died from cardiac arrest. There was no autopsy performed. The patient’s family sued the hospital, claiming that the hospital failed to treat the patient for deep vein thrombosis despite signs and symptoms of the condition, ultimately resulting in a pulmonary embolism and the patient’s death. During the trial, the trial court allowed evidence from an expert who testified that the patient did not die from a pulmonary embolism. The jury found that the hospital was not at fault. The patient’s family appealed this, claiming that the expert’s evidence should not have been allowed because he relied not on hearsay, not double hearsay, but triple hearsay. That, my friends, is a lot of hearsay.
This Louisiana intermediate appellate court found the trial court did not abuse its discretion. That’s it. They don’t feel the need to break it down any further. The court is saying it is the trial court’s call and even if we completely disagreed with it, that would not make a difference.
You can read the full opinion here.