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September 19, 2016

New York's Highest Court Limits the Admissibility of Previous OPMC Findings

In the recent case of Mazella v. Beals, 2016 N.Y. Slip Op.05812, the plaintiff alleged that her husband received substandard medical treatment resulting in his suicide.  She specifically claimed that one of the defendant physicians, Dr. William Beals, negligently prescribed Paxil to her husband without adequately monitoring his condition for more than a decade.  At trial, Dr. Beals acknowledged that his care was below accepted medical standards but argued his negligence in no way caused Mr. Mazella’s suicide.  The Jury disagreed with Dr. Beals and rendered a verdict for the plaintiff.

Dr. Beals appealed the Jury’s verdict offering several arguments as to why it should be set aside.  His most compelling argument related to the alleged improper admission into evidence of a consent order between himself and the Office of Professional Conduct (OPMC).  The consent order stemmed from previous OPMC charges brought against Dr. Beals that were strikingly similar to those alleged in Ms. Mazella’s civil lawsuit.  The OPMC specifically claimed that Dr. Beals negligently prescribed medication to 13 patients, including Mr. Mazella, without properly evaluating or monitoring the patients.  Dr. Beals consented to the charges involving 12 of the 13 patients.  However, he contested the charges pertaining to Mr. Mazella given the pending civil lawsuit.

The Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Dr. Beals finding that the trial judge abused his discretion in admitting the OPMC consent order.  The Court determined that the consent order was not probative on the issue of whether Dr. Beals caused Mr. Mazella’s death.  The Court also determined that any potential relevant information contained within the consent order was significantly outweighed by its prejudicial effect on the Jury.  The Court emphasized that it is improper to try to prove a person did something wrong, on a specific occasion, by establishing he did the same thing wrong on previous but unrelated occasions.

This case highlights the potential pitfalls of defending against both a government action and civil lawsuit.  A  medical provider must always consider how a settlement in one matter will affect the other.  Barclay Damon has extensive experience in defending both types of matters and utilizes a team approach to ensure a client’s interests are protected on all fronts.

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