SC 18437/18440

Judicial District of Stamford


      Medical Malpractice; Whether Jury Instructions Permitted Jury to Award Damages for Preexisting Injuries Not Caused by Defendants’ Negligence; Whether Jury Should Have Been Instructed as to “Cause in Fact” and Should not Have Been Instructed as to Allegation that Doctor Untimely Performed a Cesarean Section; Whether Plaintiffs Entitled to Offer of Judgment Interest.  The plaintiffs brought this action alleging that the defendant doctor was negligent in, among other things, failing to perform a timely emergency cesarean section on the plaintiff mother, thereby causing the plaintiff child to sustain permanent brain injury with resulting cerebral palsy and other permanent disabilities.  The mother raised an additional claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress.  The jury rendered a verdict for the plaintiffs, which the defendants moved to set aside.  They argued that the court improperly instructed the jury on proximate cause, thereby allowing the jury to award one hundred percent of the damages against the defendants, even though they might have been responsible for far less.  The court rejected this claim, explaining that it did not instruct the jury to award compensation for any preexisting injuries and that it had specifically stated that the jury could only award compensation for injuries caused by the defendants’ negligence.  The defendants also argued that there was no evidentiary support for the court's instruction regarding the allegation that the doctor untimely conducted a cesarean section.  The court found mo merit in this argument and also rejected the defendants' claim that it improperly failed to instruct the jury on an essential element of tort liability, that is, “cause in fact.”  It determined that the element of cause in fact, or actual cause, was included in its charge on proximate cause.  It further stated that it instructed the jury that it could not hold the doctor liable if it determined that the child's injuries and the mother’s emotional distress were caused solely by other conditions, factors or persons not parties to this case and that this was another way of expressing the cause in fact instruction.  The defendants subsequently objected to the plaintiffs' request for offer of judgment interest, arguing that the offer of judgment was invalid because it had not been approved by the Probate Court.  The court disagreed and awarded the interest.  In SC 18437, the Supreme Court will address the defendants' claims that the trial court improperly (1) allowed the jury to award damages for preexisting injuries not caused by their negligence, (2) failed to instruct the jury as to cause in fact and (3) instructed the jury as to the allegation that the doctor failed to perform a timely cesarean section.  In SC 18440, it will determine whether the trial court properly awarded offer of judgment interest.