UPDATES & ANALYSIS

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The case of the fainting juror and the doctor who did not tend to her

by Ryan Koopmans | January 23, 2015

By Ryan Koopmans

Two doctors are sued for separate acts of alleged negligence against the same patient.  During trial, a juror faints and one of the doctors tends to her.  Assuming that’s cause for a mistrial in the case against the juror-treating doctor, is it also cause for a mistrial in the case against the doctor who didn’t treat the juror? 

No, ruled the Iowa Supreme Court this morning.  The plaintiff argued that the treating doctor’s “humanitarian efforts benefit everyone in his profession,” including the other doctor-defendant, and thus the judge should have ordered a mistrial on all counts. The Supreme Court wasn’t buying that one-for-all, all-for-one approach. “Normally, we judge people as individuals, not as members of a group,” Justice Mansfield wrote for the unanimous Court.  And since the individuals’ actions were different, so is the outcome.  Justice Mansfield explained:  

Dr. Sweetman was the only person who actually helped the ailing juror. The district court, which witnessed the entire scene, found “nothing in Dr. Booth’s behavior during the incident that could have engendered any particular good will in her favor”. . . . It is just as possible that Dr. Booth’s failure to render care would be held against her as that Dr. Sweetman’s acts would transfer sympathy to Dr. Booth. And what about the physician who testified as an expert witness against Dr. Booth? By plaintiffs’ logic, the jury’s warm feelings would have extended to him as well. For all these reasons, we cannot find the district court abused its discretion in denying the plaintiffs a new trial on their claims against Dr. Booth.

You can read the entire opinion here.

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