Negligence: Court Clarifies Jury Instruction Regarding Physician’s “Exercise of Judgment”

May 27, 2014 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance

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​In some jurisdictions, courts instruct juries serving in medical negligence trials that a physician may not be found negligent if the physician erred in exercising his or her medical judgment, or language to that effect. The jury instruction is thought to benefit physicians in cases alleging negligent diagnostic error. However, in recent years, plaintiff attorneys have successfully persuaded courts that the jury instruction, sometimes referred to as the "error in judgment" charge, is a confusing and inaccurate statement of the law.

Recently, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania vacated a jury finding in favor of the defendants in a case in which the parents of a deceased two-month-old boy alleged negligence against the boy's pediatrician and medical facility. The high court concluded that the trial judge erroneously instructed the jury that "under the law, physicians are permitted a broad range of judgment in...

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