Pa. Superior Court Says Use of Medical Treatise Book Is Hearsay Evidence, Overturns $40M Plaintiff Verdict

Last Updated: Aug 5, 2020

books_stethoscopeIn the case of Charlton v. Troy et al., a three-judge panel of the Pa. Superior Court vacated a decision by a Delaware County trial court that included a $40 million plaintiff verdict. The case has been remanded for a new trial.

The case was initiated on behalf of an infant who suffered a spinal cord injury during birth that resulted in the infant’s paralysis from the chest down. The plaintiffs alleged that the delivering physician negligently pulled on the infant during delivery. As a result of the physician’s pulling on the infant, the plaintiffs claimed that a loud popping noise occurred and was heard throughout the delivery room. To support their claims of medical negligence, the plaintiffs introduced evidence from a medical treatise textbook describing a popping sound associated with the tearing of spinal tissue during the delivery of an infant’s head, the excerpts from the text specifically linked that sound to the use of excessive traction.

The three-judge Superior Court panel reached a unanimous decision to vacate the verdict. The Superior Court concluded that it was improper for the plaintiffs to read text from a textbook to support their claims of negligence. The Superior Court opined that the admission of this hearsay evidence from a textbook was extremely prejudicial.

Furthermore, the Superior Court reasoned that words such as “excessive longitudinal traction” likely would have resonated with the jury, and lent credence to the alternative theory that the delivering physician used too much traction on the infant’s properly-flexed head, a theory that the Superior Court concluded was not legally supported by the plaintiffs’ expert testimony.

The Superior Court’s full opinion can be viewed here

The Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) will continue to monitor the case and provide any updates accordingly.

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