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Sanctions Against Defense Attorney in Medical Liability Case Reversed by PA Superior Court

On June 15, 2016, Pennsylvania's Superior Court issued an order and opinion reversing the trial court's order against Nancy Raynor, a Philadelphia-area defense attorney. The Superior Court concluded that the trial court erred in finding that Ms. Raynor was in contempt and, subsequently, vacated the approximately $1 million in sanctions imposed on her.

The sanctions stemmed from Ms. Raynor's alleged failure to instruct her physician-expert witness against testifying that the deceased patient had been a smoker, despite the court's previous instruction barring such testimony from trial. The court based its sanctions award on a brief the Plaintiff's counsel submitted, which sought over $1 million in expenses and attorney's fees.

Background on the Case

Ms. Raynor appealed the trial court ruling to the Superior Court and sought a delay in her obligation to pay the sanctions until the appeal was decided.  The Superior Court granted Ms. Raynor's appeal.

Last year, Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) President (then President-Elect) Scott Shapiro, MD, expressed PAMED's concern with the sanctions imposed on Ms. Raynor. PAMED filed an amicus curiae brief in support of safeguards to ensure that sanctions do not unduly deter medical professional liability defense counsel from representing health care professional clients in a vigorous, ethical and effective manner.

PAMED's brief did not delve into the evidentiary issues involving whether the defense attorney properly cautioned the witness, but instead focused on concern that the sanction, particularly its magnitude, would deter defense counsel from aggressively representing their clients.

The Superior court held that the trial court violated Ms. Raynor's due process rights when it refused to hold an evidentiary hearing on the amount and financial consequence of the sanctions, despite her request for a hearing to be conducted.

The Superior court also noted that the trial court based its $1 million plus sanction award on the brief that Plaintiff's counsel submitted; however, the Superior court objected to the amount of the sanction award on several grounds and concluded that the record provided no evidentiary support for the sanction.

As a result, the Superior Court issued an order and opinion reversing the trial court's order. It concluded that the trial court erred in finding that Ms. Raynor was in contempt and, subsequently, vacated all judgment related to the sanctions imposed on her.

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