Defense attorneys in medical negligence cases must often overcome jurors’ natural tendency to engage in hindsight bias when they consider a doctor’s care. At trial over the communication and treatment surrounding a Florida woman’s ectopic pregnancy, Louis La Cava’s closing on staff expectations and an artful warning on hindsight bias helped clear the doctors that treated her.
Stacey Santangelo-Santana’s’s 2014 ectopic pregnancy — a nonviable pregnancy outside the uterus — led to the loss of one of her fallopian tubes, and left her unable to naturally conceive. Santangelo-Santana sued Exodus Women’s Center and its two treating obstetricians — Drs. Dawn Ericsson and Stephen Wagner— as well as pathologist Dr. Robert Ruffalo, claiming that delays in communicating pathology results led to the loss of her fallopian tube. Ruffalo, she contended, failed to properly contact Ericsson and Wagner regarding the pathology results, while the two obstetricians, she claimed, did not follow up to obtain the results.
In closings of the seven-day trial, La Cava & Jacobson P.A.’s La Cava, representing the two obstetricians, argued that none of the three doctors were negligent. La Cava walked jurors through communication protocols he said led the two obstetricians to reasonably expect they’d be contacted regarding unusual pathology reports. Meanwhile, he said, Ruffalo reasonably expected his electronic entry of the pathology results would be promptly conveyed to the appropriate staff.
La Cava cautioned jurors against hindsight bias — a tendency to perceive events that have occurred in the past as being more expected than they were before the events took place. La Cava called it the “I knew it all along,” syndrome.
It would be easy, La Cava contended, with hindsight knowledge that the pathology results signaled an ectopic pregnancy, to assume Ericsson or Wagner should have reached out to obtain the results. “But you know what? That doesn’t meet the burden of proof,” La Cava said.
“The fact was, there was a procedure that could have, should have, prevented this,” La Cava said. “It was expected to… happen by Dr. Ericsson. It was expected to happen by Dr. Wagner. And it was expected to happen by Dr. Ruffalo.”
Jurors deliberated for less than three hours before clearing all three doctors.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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