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Kabran v. Sharp Memorial D064133 2015 DJDAR 5510 (4th Dist.)

Where plaintiff in medical negligence suit dies after trial, autopsy evidence giving more definite diagnosis as to plaintiff’s injuries merits new trial.

In 2008, Dr. Eke Wokocha began feeling numb in his extremities. An MRI showed Wokocha suffered from a low-grade tumor in his spine. After undergoing surgery in January 2009, Wokocha moved to Sharp Memorial Hospital’s rehabilitation center. A few days later, however, Wokocha’s condition rapidly worsened and he became completely quadriplegic. Wokocha sued Sharp for negligence, alleging that employee mishandling led to spinal shock and a hematoma. Both sides’ experts gave conflicting testimony based upon various MRIs; Sharp’s experts contended that the tumor caused Wokocha’s rapid onset of quadriplegic. A jury found Sharp negligent, but that its negligence was not a substantial cause of Wokocha’s harm. Wokocha passed away shortly thereafter and his successor in interest, Berthe Felicite Kabran, moved for new trial on grounds of newly-discovered evidence. Namely, the results of Wokocha’s autopsy showing that his harm was not the result of his tumor, but was more likely a result of blunt force trauma. The trial court granted Kabran’s motion, finding it probable the autopsy evidence would render a different verdict.

Affirmed. To merit a new trial, new evidence may not be “cumulative merely.” However, even where evidence may be cumulative, if it is so overwhelming as to “render a different result certain (or probable)…a new trial should be granted.” Here, Dr. Wokocha’s autopsy enabled a much more thorough analysis of the spinal cord tissue than either side’s experts had been able to perform. Indeed, Sharp’s expert testified that analysis resulting from an autopsy, if it had been possible before trial, would potentially have lead him to “change [his] opinion” as to the cause of Wokocha’s condition. In sum, the new evidence merited lower court’s decision.