On Friday afternoon a Hinds County medical malpractice trial took one of the weirdest turns imaginable. First, the the non-weird part.
Dr. Paul Bracey treated Patrina Reynolds at the St. D emergency room in 2007. Dr. Bracey ordered an antibiotic and sent Ms. Reynolds home. Ms. Reynolds ended up getting very sick and going blind.
Plaintiff alleged that Dr. Bracey should have admitted Ms. Reynolds and ordered additional medications because she had SIRS and an infection. The defense disagreed and countered that Ms. Reynolds went blind due to an unforeseeable reaction to medication.
At the end of a week long trial, a Hinds County jury returned a defense verdict after three hours of deliberations. Good news for the defendants, Dr. Paul Bracey and Allied Emergency Services, and their attorney, Whit Johnson of Currie Johnson in Flowood.
An hour and a half later, the attorneys were back in court facing a likely mistrial. What happened?
After returning to their offices following the reading of the verdict, the attorneys got a call from Judge Jeff Weill, who reported that the jury was given the wrong written instructions in deliberations. Now the good part.
The jury was not given the instructions issued by the Court following the instructions conference. Instead, the jury was given the instructions filed by the Defendants the Friday before trial.
I was in the courtroom Friday afternoon and had the chance to look at the defense instructions. The first one was “the court instructs you to find for the defendants.” From there the instructions didn’t get much better. Based on the written instructions given, there was literally no way for the jury to render a plaintiff’s verdict.
Literally–no–way. Even if the jury wanted to find for the plaintiff, there was no way to get there from the written instructions that went to the jury deliberation room.
How did it happen? After reading the instructions to the jury, Judge Weill placed them on the bench so the parties could use them in closing argument. At some point, the official set disappeared. They hadn’t turned up when the attorneys were in the courtroom late Friday afternoon.
When the jury went to deliberate a bailiff looked for the jury instructions. He found a set back over in the neighborhood where a law clerk often sits on the other side of the bench away from the jury. That would be the defense set. The bailiff then delivered the found defense set to the jury.
The Court caught the problem when Judge Weill’s staff went to retrieve the jury instructions so they could be filed.
Plaintiff’s counsel moved for a mistrial. Defense counsel asked for time to investigate the facts and research the issues. Judge Weill requested a written motion from the Plaintiff to be filed within ten days.
The lawyers and judge looked about like you would expect. Judge Weill looked like he was having a Maalox moment.
Defense attorney Whit Johnson looked like Lloyd Bridges in the movie Airplane announcing that he picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.
Plaintiff’s counsel Darryl Gibbs, Rogen Chhabra and John Giddens looked like death row inmates who were just granted a last minute stay of execution.
Let’s be honest. This is kind of funny if you aren’t involved in the case. This case will be the subject of a lot of talk in lawyer watering holes over the next few weeks. And the later in the night it gets the funnier it will be.
For the parties, lawyers and court involved in the case? Not so funny. A lot of work just went down the drain. Barring a settlement, it’s hard to see this one not being re-tried.
I will probably write more about this in a later post, but this is indicative of the problem with how state court judges handle jury instructions that I wrote about in this post a couple of weeks ago.