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PRUITT v. SUFFOLK OB-GYN GROUP

July 31, 1986

CHERYL PRUITT and ROBERT PRUITT, Plaintiffs,
v.
SUFFOLK OB-GYN GROUP, P.C., WILLIAM CIARAVINO, M.D., and JOHN DeANGELIS, M.D., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCLAUGHLIN

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

McLAUGHLIN, District Judge

 Plaintiffs in this diversity action seek damages arising from the defendants' alleged medical malpractice. On May 9, 1986, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, awarding $2,750,000 to plaintiff Cheryl Pruitt and $250,000 to her husband, Robert Pruitt. The jury found both of the defendant-physicians negligent, and determined that 80% of the total negligence causing the damage was attributable to Dr. DeAngelis and the remaining 20% was attributable to Dr. Ciaravino and the Suffolk County OB-GYN Group.

 Defendants move for a new trial on the familiar ground that the verdict is against the weight of evidence. They also move for a reduction in the verdict on the grounds of excessiveness. Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a).

 Facts

 Plaintiff Cheryl Pruitt and her husband, Robert Pruitt, bring this action to recover money damages for personal injuries allegedly sustained by Mrs. Pruitt and for Mr. Pruitt's loss of her services. The defendants, William A. Ciaravino, M.D., an obstetrician-gynecologist, and John DeAngelis, M.D., a breast surgeon, examined Mrs. Pruitt during the period from October to November 1982.

 In September 1983, Mrs. Pruitt underwent a modified radical mastectomy for a cancer in her left breast. Thereafter, she was subjected to approximately one year of chemotherapy.

 Plaintiff claimed at trial, and the jury apparently found, that defendants were negligent in failing to diagnose her cancer during their examinations of her in 1982, and that as a result, her cancer spread, thus minimizing the likelihood of total cure and subjecting her to increased future risk.

 Discussion

 Apportionment of Liability

 As previously stated, defendants Suffolk OB-GYN Group, P.C. and Dr. William Ciaravino have moved, inter alia, for a new trial on the ground that their apportioned liability (20%) is excessive. These defendants claim not to be liable at all. They contend that Dr. Ciaravino properly referred the patient to a breast surgeon, and thus, was relieved of responsibility. In the event that a new trial on liability is not granted, these defendants request that the Court reduce their percentage of liability.

 The latter request is readily disposed of, since a jury's apportionment of responsibility -- unlike a damages award -- is not subject to adjustment by the device of remittitur. Akermanis v. Sea-Land Service, Inc., 688 F.2d 898, 902-03 (2d Cir. 1982), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 927, 77 L. Ed. 2d 298, 103 S. Ct. 2087 (1983). Thus, the Court need only consider defendants' motion for a new trial.

 The decision to grant a new trial is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court. DeMonaco v. Mastellone, 630 F. Supp. 294, 298 (E.D.N.Y. 1983). In Bevevino v. Saydjari, 574 F.2d 676 (2d Cir. 1978), the Second Circuit set forth the standard by which a trial court should evaluate a motion for a new trial:

 The trial judge, exercising a mature judicial discretion, should view the verdict in the overall setting of the trial; consider the character of the evidence and the complexity or simplicity of the legal principles which the jury was bound to apply to the facts; and abstain from interfering with the verdict unless it is quite clear that the jury has reached a seriously erroneous result. The judge's duty is essentially to see that there is no ...


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