The Supreme Court of Florida recently determined that an attempt to pressure a witness into not testifying during a medical malpractice case was not recognized by the trial court. As a result of this and other errors in the case, the Supreme Court required that a new trial be held.
The case involved the death of a 38-year-old woman during the birth of her child in 2003. The plaintiff argued that medical negligence (improper administration of anesthesia, monitoring of Cesarean section, reaction to cardiopulmonary arrest) resulted in her death. The defendant hospital argued that a condition known as amniotic fluid embolus (AFE) where amniotic fluid mixes with the mother's blood, causing an allergic reaction, was the cause of death.
After the woman's death, a medical examiner who performed an autopsy found no evidence of AFE on the pathology slides, ruling out AFE as the cause of death. However, prior to her testimony at trial, she was informer via her lawyer that a defense attorney had told her lawyer that she "might not want to embarrass herself by maintaining that the autopsy showed no evidence of AFE and that a world-renowned AFE expert was going to contradict her opinion and testify that the slides on which she saw no evidence of AFE were actually replete with evidence of AFE."
The medical examiner testified at trial but was not permitted to testify as to the perceived witness intimidation attempt by the trial court. The Florida Supreme Court found that the statement made by the defense attorney was an attempt to dissuade her from relaying this piece of information during her testimony, and thus constituted witness intimidation. The Court continued that the plaintiff had satisfied his burden of proving that the excluded testimony was relevant and that witness intimidation did occur. "The Florida Supreme Court held that the trial court's failure to admit the proffered testimony was an abuse of discretion, and in light of the harmful error caused by the exclusion of the evidence, a new trial was required," according to Medicalmalpracticelawyers.com.