Court of Appeals Info.
Define That Term #94

Fourth Deparment Reverses Judgment in Med. Mal. Case

In Catanese v. Furman, 2006 NY Slip Op 01915, the Court considered whether the trial court properly granted the defendant's motion in limine, which sought to preclude the plaintiffs from offering proof that the defendant, a pathologist, prepared, examined, and misread additional tissue slides on the day following the plaintiff's surgery. 

In this case, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant negligently misdiagnosed the plaintiff as suffering from a rare form of cancer by relying on a "frozen tissue" section slides during an operation rather than deferring the diagnosis until he could view a more  definitive "permanent tissue" section slide.  The plaintiffs also alleged that as a result of the misdiagnosis, the plaintiff's surgeon removed a mass in the plaintiff's pelvic area, which required him to sever the nerve root to the plaintiff's right leg.

The Court noted that although rulings regarding the relevancy of proposed evidence are discretionary decisions to be made by the trial court, the evidence precluded was highly relevant because: 

(the) misreading of the permanent section slides on the day following plaintiff's surgery is relevant because it tends to prove that defendant's misdiagnosis was not caused by the time constraints inherent in intraoperative diagnoses or by the limitations inherent in using frozen section slides. Rather, that evidence tends to prove that defendant's misdiagnosis with respect to plaintiff was caused by defendant's lack of knowledge and skill as a pathologist.

Accordingly, the Court held that the trial court should have granted the plaintiffs' motion to set aside the verdict and for a new trial.

I agree with the Fourth Department's decision.  The evidence was extremely relevant to the plaintiffs' case and the ruling that precluded the admission of that evidence made it far more difficult for the plaintiff's to prove their case, as is evidenced by the verdict in favor of the defense.  And, I'm curious as to the trial court's rationale for excluding the evidence.


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