Jury Disregards Panel’s Finding, Awards Family $1.5 Million


May 6, 2014

A review panel’s findings were disregarded in a medical malpractice case in New Hampshire earlier this year, after the panel found that a cardiologist was not at fault for 36 year old William Landry Jr.’s death in June 2005.

Between April and September of 2004, Landry Jr. passed out several times and had numerous neurological tests performed to determine the cause of these episodes. The tests came back within normal limits, and Landry was then referred to New Hampshire Cardiology Consultants to be tested further. Without performing any tests, Dr. Alan Garstka and the cardiology group told Landry that his problem was not cardiac, and sent him home. A year later, on June 30, 2005, Bill Landry, Jr. died.  Thomas Andrew, New Hampshire’s Chief Medical Examiner, testified that he found a lesion on Landry’s heart during the autopsy. Landry had died from coronary artery disease, which Andrew believes Landry had developed in September of 2004.

This case is the first time in New Hampshire a plaintiff had prevailed at trial with the admission of unanimous unfavorable panel findings.  Malpractice panels are often favored by insurance companies and the health care industry, but many personal-injury lawyers see them as an additional and expensive pre-trial step. “This case clearly proves that the panel system doesn’t take away a person’s day in court,” said Dr. Travis Harker, president of the New Hampshire Medical Society.

How could a panel side with the cardiologist in this type of case? Joseph McDowell, the Manchester lawyer who brought the case against Dr. Alan Garska and his practice, commented that the evidence had not been completely gathered when the panel heard the case in 2009. This particular panel was made up of a retired judge, physician and lawyer who heard the case in secret without formal courtroom procedures. The panel’s non-binding decision is meant to encourage the two sides to settle.

However, McDowell said Gartska’s lawyer never offered a settlement, and it took four years to bring the case to a jury after the malpractice panel decision. “I didn’t say much,” McDowell stated about his comments to the jury about the panel decision. “I told them upfront that under the constitution, my clients were entitled to a jury trial.” McDowell’s case was solid. A Hillsborough County jury found that the defendants were negligent when they failed to timely diagnose and treat Landry’s coronary disease. Landry’s family was awarded $1.5 million after the jury disregarded the medical malpractice panel’s decision.

Takeaways

1) Medical review panels and juries can differ in their opinions on malpractice

2) Panels can prolong the litigation process. While this is often to the benefit of the defendant, this is not always the case. Here litigation ended approximately 9 years after the event in question.