Komlodi v. Picciano, WL 2050758 (N.J. 2014) – Part 1

By Michael Zerres

Komlodi Part 1

Plaintiff alleged Dr. Picciano breached the duty of care in prescribing a Duragesic patch to Michelle Komlodi, a known abuser of drugs and alcohol who orally ingested the patch, resulting in a severe brain injury. The Trial Court had to assess the issue of whether Dr. Picciano, the plaintiff, or, both were proximate causes of the injury.

The Trial Court charged the jury on avoidable consequences, superseding/intervening causation, and preexisting condition (Scafidi charge), but not on comparative negligence. The jury found that Dr. Picciano deviated from the standard of care and increased the risk of harm to the plaintiff. However, a no-cause verdict was entered on behalf of the defendant, as the jury found the increased risk of harm was not a substantial factor in producing the patient’s brain injury under Scafidi.

On appeal the Appellate Division reversed and remanded for a new trial stating the lower Court incorrectly charged the jury on the law. The Appellate division found clear error in giving a Scafidi charge. The panel also stated that the Trial Court erred in instructing the jury on both “but-for” causation and “substantial factor” causation in referring to the “preexisting condition/increased risk.” The panel further rejected plaintiff’s argument that the Court should not have instructed the jury on the doctrine of avoidable consequences. The Supreme Court decided the case on May 21, 2014 and addressed primarily six issues, the first of which is:

The need provide accurate and clear instructions tailored to the legal theories and facts of the case
Juries in medical malpractice cases are asked to analyze substantial amounts of testimonial evidence and complex legal theories. Juries need accurate, clear, and understandable instructions on the law to facilitate reaching fair and just verdicts. The Trial Court is responsible for providing necessary guidance. The Trial Court here failed to explain the complex concepts of causation in relation to the proofs and legal theories before the jury.

Therefore, the Trial Court must tailor the instructions on the law to the theories and facts of a complex case for a jury to fully understand the task before it.

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