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Delivering Tough Truths: Avoiding Losing on Appeal in Medical Malpractice Cases

One of the most difficult aspects of any lawyer’s career is having the courage to tell a client with sympathetic facts that he or she has no case. That is what the lawyers in the 2013 case of Shartz v. Miulli should have done — deliver the tough truth. What follows is a tragic story that should have come to closure much sooner than it did:

Specifics of the Case

Mrs. Miulli’s son Michael was born with a serious heart condition that constricted the flow of blood into his heart’s chambers. Despite his heart condition, Michael loved to play baseball. Michael saw a cardiologist in 2002 who provisionally permitted him to play sports, but said that he needed to have a follow-up exam in six months. The Miullis, however, didn’t take Michael for a follow up exam. When the 2005 sports season came around, Michael again needed authorization from a physician to play. The Miullis took Michael to a new doctor, Dr. Shartz, who asked whether he’d seen a cardiologist. There was some confusion about how long it had been since Michael’s last visit, but Dr. Shartz ultimately concluded that Michael was healthy enough to play and signed the sports authorization form. However, upon calling Michael’s old cardiologist the next day, Dr. Shartz discovered how long it had been since Michael’s last exam. He then began frantically calling the Miullis for the next four days, leaving multiple voicemails saying that Michael should not play sports. He even sent a certified letter saying as much. Tragically, however, the warnings somehow did not reach the Miulli family, and Michael died of a coronary failure during his preseason training for baseball.

At the advice of their counsel, the Miullis brought a medical practice lawsuit against Dr. Shartz and the health care company for which he worked. The jury entered a verdict partially in favor of the Miullis, no doubt moved by the harrowing story of Michael’s death. However, Dr. Shartz’s counsel appealed the verdict to the Florida Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals called the case “tragic,” and described its great hesitancy in overturning a jury verdict. In the end, though, the Court was compelled to conclude that the verdict was contrary to law and the clear, unequivocal weight of the evidence. “A plaintiff in a medical malpractice action,” the Court wrote, “must show more than a decreased chance of survival because of the defendant’s conduct.”

Seek Advice from Trusted Attorneys

It should go without saying that this is an extremely sad and sympathetic set of facts. But sometimes the hallmark of a good lawyer is the ability to deliver bad news — not only to save unnecessary legal fees, but to save the heartache of undergoing a years-long battle in the courts only, when all is said and done, to lose on purely legal grounds. You can trust the personal injury attorneys at Gary Roberts & Associates to carefully consider the legal strengths and weaknesses of your case before deciding to take it all the way to trial.

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