COURT REVERSES RIVERVIEW JUDGMENT

riverviewA state appeals court judge overturned a multi-million dollar malpractice verdict from 2008 last week. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

A state appeals court last week reversed a 2008 verdict ordering an obstetrician pay $18.9 million for delaying a Caesarian section that a Monmouth County jury originally found to have caused a severe disability to a boy delivered at Riverview Medical Center, according to a report from New Jersey Law Journal.

The court cited multiple trial errors, including mistakes by the judge, as reason to reverse the judgment against Dr. Aravid Palav.

Palav was the head obstetrician in 1997 when he delayed the C-section to Bonnie Kowalski, a move believed to have caused cerbral palsy in her son, Brandon. As a result, a Monmouth County jury ordered Palav pay the multi-million dollar sum.

But there were errors in that trial, the appeals court found.

From the Journal:

The panel found that Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Louis Locascio failed to limit the testimony of a labor-and-delivery nurse, to issue the jury a contemporaneous limiting  instruction on the nurse’s testimony and to allow the defendant to admit into evidence a report that had exculpatory value for the obstetrician.

“We determine that these errors, either alone or combined, were capable of producing an unjust verdict, and accordingly, we reverse and remand for a new trial on both the issues of  liability and damages,” the Appellate Division wrote in Kowalski v. Palav, A-5348-07.

The case is an illustration of the danger of allowing an influential fact witness to dominate the trial, as Nurse Dina Zeh seems to have done.

Zeh, the nurse on duty during plaintiff Bonnie Kowalski’s labor at Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, N.J., testified that she repeatedly told Dr. Aravid Palav, the obstetrician, that she was concerned about the dropping fetal heart rate and believed that Kowalski required a C-section without delay.

But Palav, who had ordered Kowalski admitted to the hospital due to severe stomach pains, believed she was likely suffering from appendicitis and that the baby was not in danger.

Zeh ended up “going over his head” and reporting the issue to her charge nurse and nursing supervisor, though they never relayed her concerns to the head of obstetrics.

In 2008, a county panel found that Palav deviated from the proper standard of care and that contributed to Brandon’s injuries.

Here’s the appellate decision.