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New York Court Discusses Habit Evidence in Medical Malpractice Cases

Typically, in a medical malpractice case, the injured party will rely on medical records and testimony to establish that the defendant’s behavior led to the patient’s harm. In some instances, however, in a case where there is a lack of concrete evidence, a defendant may try to avoid liability by presenting evidence regarding regular practices or procedures that demonstrate compliance with the standard of care. Recently, a New York court discussed when evidence of habit might be relevant and admissible in a case in which the plaintiff suffered harm due to a negligent cardiovascular surgeon. If you suffered injuries due to the carelessness of a heart doctor, it is wise to speak to a trusted Syracuse cardiovascular surgery malpractice attorney regarding your possible causes of action.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiff underwent multiple cardiac surgeries, which were performed by the defendant cardiovascular surgeon. Following his procedures, he was placed on medications that reduced the likelihood of blood clots and he was directed to remain on the drugs indefinitely. Seven years later, he was ordered to undergo a colonoscopy and was directed to stop taking the medication prior to the procedure.

Allegedly, the plaintiff’s wife spoke to the defendant, who approved of the plaintiff stopping the medication. The plaintiff ceased taking the prescriptions and underwent the procedure. Five days later, he suffered a heart attack. The plaintiff then sued the defendant alleging, in part, that he was negligent in approving the stoppage of the medication. The case proceeded to trial, and a jury found in favor of the defendant, after which the plaintiff appealed.

Habit Evidence in Medical Malpractice Cases

On appeal, the plaintiff argued in part that the court erred in providing the jury with a habit evidence charge. Under New York law, evidence of habit may be charged if it involves a repetitive pattern of conduct that is predictive and predictable, to allow an inference of such conduct. Habit may be charged in a medical malpractice case if the procedure or practice in question does not vary from one patient to the next, depending on the physical condition or medical circumstances of the patient.

In the subject case, the habit charge delivered to the jury by the court advised that the defendant introduced evidence to show that it was his habit regarding the course of treatment for patients on the same medication as the plaintiff. The court agreed, however, that habit charges are only appropriate when an inference is needed to fill in a gap in the evidence. Here, there was no such gap, and the defendant testified that his decisions regarding the cessation of the medication varied depending on the health of the patient. Thus, the appellate court reversed the lower court judgment and remanded the case for a new trial.

Confer with a Dedicated Syracuse Attorney

Even if doctors typically treat patients in a certain manner, they cannot rely on evidence of their habits if there is clear proof of their negligent behavior. If you sustained injuries due to the careless acts of a heart doctor, the dedicated Syracuse cardiovascular surgery malpractice attorneys of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP Personal Injury Lawyers can inform you of your options for seeking damages and aid you in the pursuit of a just result. You can contact us at 315-479-9000 or through the form online to schedule a meeting.

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