Graham v. Mehta

By Michael Zerres

In this case, the plaintiff went to the hospital for surgery to correct complications related to two prior surgeries. During the post-operative period, Dr. Mehta, the defendant attending physician, ordered or allowed the administration of Lopressor, a beta blocker designed to reduce a fast heart rate. Plaintiff went into cardiac arrest, causing her to end up in a permanent vegetative state. It was alleged that Lopressor should not have been given under the circumstances, and, that it caused plaintiff’s heart rate to drop too low to the point that she went into cardiac arrest.

Originally, the plaintiff sued two other doctors, the hospital and the nurse who administered the Lopressor. She settled with all of those defendants prior to trial in the aggregate sum of $2,725,000. The remaining defendant (Mehta) claimed that he should have been entitled to a credit of $2,725,000 in the event a verdict was returned against him, such that he would only be responsible for any damage awarded in excess of the settlement amount. The Trial Court, in a September 10, 2013 decision approved for publication, found that in order for a defendant to be entitled to a credit, the jury must be provided sufficient information to be able to determine the actual liability of the settling co-defendants. Thus, a jury can only assess the liability of a settling co-defendant if there is evidence, in the form of expert testimony, potentially implicating the settling defendants.

During the trial, there was no expert witness testimony setting forth any negligence by the settling co-defendants. The Court held that because there could be no adjudication as to the settling co-defendants based upon the evidence presented, the defendant Mehta was the only defendant for which the jury had to determine liability, and as such, the defendant Mehta was not entitled to any credit as a result of the plaintiff’s settlement with the co-defendants.

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