Communication: Codefendants Point Fingers, One Defendant Settles at Trial; Jury Apportions Liability
November 9, 2016 | Strategic Insights for Health System
A New Jersey court of appeals upheld as valid a settlement reached by the plaintiff and one of two physician defendants during a second successive trial of a malpractice claim against the two physicians, a neurosurgeon and a radiologist. The physicians' liability for malpractice hinged on an undocumented telephone discussion between them concerning the radiologist's interpretation of an imaging study ordered by the neurosurgeon. The court also upheld the second jury's verdict, which found that both physicians had deviated from accepted standards of care and apportioned liability between them, holding the radiologist 40% negligent and the neurosurgeon 60%.
A few weeks after the neurosurgeon performed a cervical fusion on the plaintiff, the plaintiff began to experience pain and difficulty moving one arm. The radiologist ordered and interpreted a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study. The neurosurgeon telephoned the radiologist to learn her interpretation of the study. At trial, the physicians differed sharply on what the radiologist stated during their phone conversation. The radiologist testified that she told the neurosurgeon the MRI showed significant abnormal prevertebral swelling and edema, perithecal enhancement, spinal cord compression, and spinal stenosis and that overall the findings were "concerning for infection." She conceded that if she had failed to report any of these findings to...