Supreme Court denies request for new medical malpractice trial

By Kyla Asbury | Oct 25, 2017

CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals issued a memorandum decision in which it denied a request for a new trial in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Donna Hamilton appealed Monongalia Circuit Court’s order denying her motion for a new trial following a defense verdict in the trial of her medical malpractice action against Dr. Jaiyoung Ryu.

The Supreme Court ruled that it found no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. 

The appeal challenges multiple evidentiary rulings made by the circuit court in the trial of her medical malpractice suit against Ryu.

In her suit, Hamilton alleged that she experienced permanent ulnar nerve injury in her left arm following a total elbow arthroplasty performed by Ryu.

At the conclusion of six days of trial, the jury returned a verdict finding that Hamilton failed to prove that Ryu breached the standard of care in his treatment of her elbow. The circuit court denied her motion for a new trial, and this appeal followed.

“Upon our review, we find no merit in petitioner’s first assignment of error,” the memorandum states. “Initially, the record demonstrates that petitioner’s theory of the case at trial was a bit of a moving target. At one point, petitioner appears to have alleged that Dr. Ryu was negligent because he was not present to supervise the medical resident who participated and/or because the surgery was unnecessary.”

However, at other times, Hamilton appeared to concede that there was no negligence in the performance of the surgery, and that her claim focused solely on lack of informed consent, that is, that she was not properly informed that numbness was a complication of the surgery or a that medical resident would participate in the procedure.

“As Dr. Ryu points out, many of the circuit court’s evidentiary rulings favored petitioner and allowed her to advance her differing theories of the case, even over Dr. Ryu’s objections,” the memo states. “Importantly, petitioner did not present expert testimony that Dr. Ryu breached the standard of care during the surgery. The record reflects that petitioner attempted to imply to the jury that Dr. Ryu breached the standard of care because he was absent when the ulner nerve was transposed.”

The petitioner argued that she wanted to introduce the surgery schedule to challenge Ryu’s assertion that “special care” was taken to protect the nerve.

“However, there was no expert testimony to support a claim that the standard of care was breached at all during the surgery, which would include transposition of the nerve,” the memo states. “Thus, the circuit court’s ruling to preclude petitioner from introducing Dr. Ryu’s surgery schedule was not only entirely within the court’s discretion, but also consistent with the West Virginia Medical Professional Liability Act, which requires that ‘a defendant’s failure to meet the standard of care, if at issue, shall be established…by testimony of one or more knowledgeable, competent expert witnesses.’”

The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s order denying the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial.

W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals case number: 16-0856

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