Thursday, February 14, 2013

Today At The Court Of Appeals: Oakes v. Patel

Oakes v. Patel:

In this medical malpractice action, doctors failed to diagnose and treat a sentinal bleed from a cerebral aneurysm and the plaintiff eventually suffered a massive stroke.  That stroke caused, among other things, a traumatic brain injury with cognitive deficits, initial quadriplegia, and residual hemiplegia.  After a jury awarded the plaintiff $5.1 million in damages, the trial court set the award aside.  The trial court conditionally ordered a new trial unless the defendants agreed to an additur to increase the plaintiff’s award to $17.4 million, which the defendants rejected.  After a second trial, the jury awarded the plaintiff $17.8 million.  In addition, the trial court denied the Kaleida defendant’s motion to amend its answer to raise an affirmative defense that the plaintiff released the claim against them during a 2003 liquidiation proceeding against Kaleida’s insurer.

The defendants appealed and the Fourth Department affirmed in a three-member majority opinion.  The majority concluded that the defendant’s challenge to the amount of the trial court’s proposed additur was not preserved as it was not challenged “before, during or after the second trial, and [they] did not raise that issue on appeal.”  In addition, the majority found that damages at the second trial were not excessive.  Finally, the majority also rejected the argument that the trial court should have permitted Kaleida to add an alleged affirmative defense of release, explaining that the release did not include the claims.  In relevant part, the majority concluded that the release was null and void because the insurer “avoided, or announced that they would avoid, coverage of that portion of the claim.”

In partial dissent, Justice Smith agreed with the majority that whether the trial court’s additur was appropriate was unpreserved, but argued that the majority should have reduced certain categories of damages as excessive.  Also in dissent, Justice Peradotto argued that the propriety of the trial court’s additur was preserved when the defendants rejected the additur.  Justice Peradotto reasoned that while the trial court properly issued an additur for certain categories of damages, the trial court did not apply the proper standard to conditionally increase the awards to the “minimum amounts the jury could have awarded as a matter of law based on the evidence at trial.”

Oral argument will be this Thursday, February 14, 2013. The Court streams oral arguments online. To watch them live, you can visit the New York Court of Appeals website on Wednesday after 2:00 p.m. and click on the “Oral Arguments Webcast” link on the right-hand side of the page.

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