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Impact of Pain and Suffering Description on a Juror

Impact of Pain and Suffering Description on a Juror

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pain and suffering pressure soresThe description of pain and suffering was enough to cause a juror to faint in a Philadelphia courtroom this month. The case involved Gary Petter, who was hit by a PATCO truck after he crossed the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. The impact threw him into a median strip and broke his leg. The defense conceded liability when a video showed the truck driver had run a red light.

Plaintiff attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, of Salz Mongeluzzi Barrett and Bendesky, an articulate and persuasive man, presented the opening statement.

He described a grisly surgery in which doctors removed sections of dead tissue and bone to avoid amputation. Juror Number 1 fainted. The judge ordered his staff to call 911. Instead of trial resuming, defense attorney John Snyder of Rawle and Henderson offered to renew settlement discussions.

The case settled for $10 million, nearly double the pretrial offer.

This story makes me think of times I have been in the courtroom testifying about pain and suffering.

Nurses learn at an early part in their education to assume a bland exterior when confronted with a sight or smell that many would find disgusting.

We are taught to not reveal our reactions to the patient, for fear of conveying negative impressions or hurting the patient’s feelings. We are trained to function in the most intense emergencies, and then use black humor to deal with the emotions and reactions that flood in once the crisis is over.

We can view pressure sores, wounds, body fluids and tissues with clinical detachment. For example, wound care nurses can scarf up plates of scrambled eggs while watching PowerPoint presentations that include pictures of pressure sores. Consequently, we often lose perspective about how these sights can affect no healthcare providers.

Mr. Mongeluzzi’s experience reminds me of three such experiences:

  1. I testified about pain and suffering that a woman suffered after she had a podiatric surgery involving wires. She eventually lost portions of her feet. One of the jurors told the judge that if he had to look at photographs of this woman’s feet, he would faint. Feet! The judge ruled that the photographs would not be shown to any jurors. The plaintiff attorney won the case.
  2. I testified in Brooklyn involving a woman in her 80s who developed stage IV pressure sores of her sacrum and both hips. The attorney had the photographs enlarged and mounted on boards. When the bailiff saw the pictures, he winced, and I remember thinking, “Oh, these pictures must look really bad to others.” The jurors were horrified by the pictures. The case brought in a large verdict for the plaintiff.
  3. I taught a program on pain and suffering to a Pennsylvania Bar Association. Part of my slide presentation involved showing pictures of pressure sores so I could explain the stages. The catering staff served cherry Danish to the attorneys. One of the female attorneys looked at the pictures of pressure sores and then covered her cherry Danish with a napkin. This experience made me aware of the need to warn attorneys in my audiences if there were gruesome pictures, so they had the option to turn their heads. I have noticed there are some in every crowd who look away.

Never underestimate the impact of photographs or descriptions of clinical care.

Details of the Pettet case came from New Jersey Law Journal, August 15, 2011, page 3

Med League provides medical expert witnesses to trial lawyers. Please call us at (908)788-8227 or contact us today to discuss your next case.

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