Cook v. Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center, issued on October 30, the Nevada Supreme Court clarified the proper treatment
of the "mere happening" jury instruction in medical malpractice
cases. A "mere happening" jury instruction is an instruction
asserting that the mere happening of an accident, is, by itself, an insufficient
basis for liability.
The case was a medical malpractice action brought against Sunrise Hospital,
in which the Plaintiff, Mrs. Linda Cook, alleged that Sunrise Hospital's
negligence during a surgical procedure caused complications which ultimately
led to the amputation of Mrs. Cook's leg. The case went to trial and
was heard by a jury, who received the following instruction: "the
mere fact that an unfortunate or bad condition resulted to the patient
involved in this case does not prove, or even imply, that by virtue of
that fact, the defendant is negligent." The jury returned a quotient
verdict, six to two, in favor of Sunrise, and the district court entered
judgment against Mrs. Cook.
Issue: Whether the district court's "mere happening" instruction
misstated the law.
The Supreme Court held that the instruction misstated Nevada law because
it failed to inform the jury that it could consider all of the circumstances
leading to the plaintiff's injury as possible evidence of the defendant's
negligence. Thus, the jury instruction may have confused or misled the jury.
The Court reversed the judgment after finding that prejudice resulted because,
but for the mistake in instructing the jury, it is probably that the Plaintiff
may have won his/her case, as the case was close and the evidence could
have supported a finding of negligence against the Defendant.