Cozen Responds To Specter’s Take on $20 Mil. Verdict

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently put on hold a $20 million verdict in a medical malpractice case and asked the Superior Court to clarify why it upheld the verdict against Temple University Hospital.

A Philadelphia jury awarded the compensatory damages in October 2003 to a former University of Pennsylvania student whose family claimed he suffered brain damage after staffers at Temple were slow to respond to a clogged tracheotomy.

In Temple University Hospital v. Gallagher, the Supreme Court vacated the award and remanded the case to the lower court to determine whether the hospital suffered prejudice.

Stephen A. Cozen of Cozen O’Connor represents the hospital and had argued from the time the verdict was awarded that the jury confused compensatory damages with punitive damages.

One key issue as the case proceeded to trial was that, after more than two years of discovery, it emerged that the original flowsheet from the night Gallagher’s brain damage occurred had been removed from Gallagher’s file, replaced with a copy and placed in a safe kept by Temple University Hospital’s risk manager. The original had also been whited-out and rewritten in certain places.

Shanin Specter of Kline & Specter represents Gallagher. He added a punitive damages claim to the suit when he found about about the flowsheet.

“Any time you allow punitive damages to be introduced into the compensatory damages [part] of a ipso facto taint the case,” Cozen said yesterday. “The fact that they vacated the judgment with respect to compensatory damages and compensatory liability is extremely telling.”

Cozen said that the Superior Court will either find evidence of prejudice or find that the record is silent on the issue.  Either way, he said, the case is going back to trial.

Specter, who has requested consideration for reargument, had said that the Supreme Court should resolve the case once and for all.

–Gina Passarella, Staff Reporter 

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