Punitive Damages In Medical Malpractice Cases


A temporary victory has been handed down by a New York State Supreme Court judge to the family of a man from Elmira who died in 2009.  The family of Leslie E. Marshall, the decedent, claimed in the wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital that the hospital, a doctor, and a nurse contributed to the decedent’s death through negligence.

The decedent was being treated for cancer when the nurse was improperly injected with a drug, without first ascertaining his identity.  When the doctor was informed of the error, she ordered the decedent’s blood glucose levels be check every two hours but she failed to go to the hospital to check on the patient.  While she claimed she was in regular contact with the nursing staff, the doctor did not change her patient orders until she was informed that the patient’s condition had become worse.  Then the doctor advised that the nursing staff provide sugar to the patient immediately, but was then informed shortly after that he had died.

While the case has not gone to trial yet, it has gone through numerous court rulings and appeals over an attempt by the plaintiffs to seek punitive in addition to compensatory damages.  The compensatory damages would provide the plaintiffs with an award for a monetary sum that is based on future and past medical expenses, future and past lost wages, pain and suffering, and other expenses.  However, punitive damages would go even further, as they would be awarded with the purpose of deterring or punishing the defendants for proven negligence.

The Judge in this case has ruled that punitive damages may be on the table if and when the lawsuit proceeds to trial.  There is a previous decision by a New York appellate court made the same ruling.  However, the defendants argued that a more recent decision by the New York Court of Appeals in an unrelated case by the New York Court of Appeals that changed the standard for awarding punitive damages.

While the Judge acknowledged that punitive damages in cases of medical malpractice are rare, differing expert opinions offered by the parties, along with allegations that the doctor’s conduct amounted to abandonment of the decedent when he needed emergency treatment, and there were charges that the nurse’s action or inaction rose to the level of willful and wonton conduct.

Awards for punitive damages are rare.  That is why both the medical and legal communities are watching this case closely.  If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, contact an experienced Kingston, New York medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible to evaluate your case.

But what do you think?  I would love to hear from you!  Leave a comment or I also welcome your phone call on my toll-free cell at 1-866-889-6882 or you can drop me an e-mail at jfisher@fishermalpracticelaw.com.  You are always welcome to request my FREE book, The Seven Deadly Mistakes of Malpractice Victims, at the home page of my website at www.protectingpatientrights.com.