Misdiagnosed Aortic Dissection

  • Date: Fall 1999
  • Attorney: Michael Zerres
  • Settlement: $2.025 Million
  • Practice Areas: Medical Malpractice, Failure to Diagnose, Misdiagnosis, Wrongful Death, Aortic Dissection, Aneurysm

The Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled that attorney Michael Zerres' closing statement to the jury, suggesting in a wrongful death case that they consider a "bottom-line figure" for economic damages, was not prejudicial. This ruling sets a new precedent in New Jersey.

The Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled that Mr. Zerres' closing statement to the jury was not prejudicial. He had suggested to the jury in a wrongful death case that they consider a "bottom-line figure" for economic damages due to a deceased client's estate. This ruling sets a new precedent in New Jersey, effectively changing the law regarding what can be said to the jury about economic loss during personal injury trials.

In 1996, a Middlesex County jury awarded $2.025 million to the Estate of 38-year-old Joseph Dehanes who died in the emergency room at Raritan Bay Medical Center in 1992 when an aortic dissection of his heart was misdiagnosed as pain from possible kidney stones.

The defendant was the emergency room physician at the hospital. The jury found the doctor negligent. During the seven day trial, a cardio-thoracic surgical expert for the plaintiff said that he had an 80% chance of survival - if he had been treated properly.

In addition to asking for an award to the family for pain and suffering and loss of their husband and father, Mr. Zerres also presented the expert opinion of an economist regarding the wages Mr. Dehanes would have been expected to earn during his lifetime. The defense attorney objected to Mr. Zerres' summation given to the jury, and appealed the case to New Jersey's Supreme Court. Mr. Zerres argued the case in October 1998, and the Association of Trial Lawyers of New Jersey argued amicus curiae.

The Supreme Court's decision in the Spring of 1999 noted "the increased role of jurors in marshaling evidence prior to deliberations and the appropriateness of experts testimony regarding lost wages." For the first time ever in New Jersey, the Court's unanimous opinion held that attorneys are permitted to "provide aggregate figures in closing [arguments]" and that providing a bottom-line figure in asking for an award, as Mr. Zerres did on behalf of Mr. Dehane's Estate, is "non-prejudicial conduct." Further, the Court stated that economic experts may now also file position line testimony regarding future lost income to the jury.

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