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Fein v. Permanente Medical Group

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Fein (plaintiff) sued Permanente Medical Group (defendant) for malpractice.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    If a court excludes jurors based on a real relationship with one of the parties or because voir dire would be too time consuming, or a court gives the wrong jury instruction, which does not affect the outcome at trial, the court does not commit reversible error.

    Facts.

    The plaintiff went to the defendant to get treatment for chest pains, but was only able to see a nurse and was informed he was having muscle spasms and given Valium. After the pain persisted he went to the emergency room and was told the same thing. After seeing a third physician he was told he was having a heart attack and treated. Plaintiff sued arguing if treatment had been done the first time it would have lessened the effects. An expert witness testified for the plaintiff stating he had lost half his life expectancy due to the misdiagnosis and the defendant should have ordered an EKG based on the plaintiff’s symptoms. The defendant’s experts offered conflicting testimony. The court excused jurors who were members of the defendant’s affiliate, Kaiser, because voir dire would be too time consuming. The court told the jury that the standard of care for a nurse practitioner was the same as a physician or surgeon if the nurse practitioner were examining or diagnosing a patient

    Issue.

    Whether if a court excludes jurors based on a real relationship with one of the parties or because voir dire would be too time consuming, or a court gives the wrong jury instruction, which does not affect the outcome at trial, the court does not commit reversible error.

    Held.

    No. If a court excludes jurors based on a real relationship with one of the parties or because voir dire would be too time consuming, or a court gives the wrong jury instruction, which does not affect the outcome at trial, the court does not commit reversible error.

    Discussion.

    The judge did not commit reversible error in excluding the jurors and giving the wrong instruction to the jury about the nurse, because what the judge told the jury did not affect the outcome at trial. The judge chose to exclude the jurors based on his experience in similar situations. The judge had reason to do so to prevent prejudice with those affiliated with the defendant’s affiliate and that voir dire would be extensive and not worth the trouble. The judge’s instruction to the jury was wrong because the standard for the nurse was different from the physician, but it did not affect the outcome at trial because the defendant would have been held to higher standard, and his conduct was worse than the nurse.


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