BANGOR, Maine — U.S. District Judge John Woodcock on Monday upheld a jury’s October decision that awarded a Millinocket woman $200,000 in a civil lawsuit against Eastern Maine Medical Center, and he also denied the hospital’s motion for a new trial.
The decision is just another step in the appeal process, EMMC’s lawyer said in response to Woodcock’s ruling. Lorraine Morin’s lawyer said it affirms the jury’s decision that the hospital violated the law and in so doing directly caused her to suffer personal harm.
Morin, who was having contractions when she was discharged from EMMC on July 1, 2007, after finding out the 16-week-old fetus she was carrying had no heartbeat, went home and delivered her dead son in the bathroom of her Millinocket home.
She sued the hospital in U.S. District Court in Bangor, claiming that doctors violated the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act when they sent her home. The law prohibits a hospital from discharging a patient who is in an emergency medical condition, which includes being pregnant and having contractions.
A jury of six women and two men issued their verdict in October after deliberating for nearly seven hours. They awarded Morin $50,000 in compensatory damages and $150,000 in punitive damages.
Woodcock’s decision, which was filed Monday, means “the jury got it absolutely right,” said A.J. Greif, Morin’s attorney, “and that he wasn’t going to undo seven hours of hard work by this very bright jury.”
George Schelling, EMMC’s attorney, said in an email that he was not surprised by Woodcock’s decision.
“The judgment released today in the Morin case is as expected,” he said. “The ruling clears the way for EMMC to appeal the jury’s October 20, 2010, verdict to the federal appeals court. While EMMC’s profound sympathies are with the Morin family, EMMC is confident the appellate court will find that EMMC treated Mrs. Morin in keeping with national standards of care in cases of miscarriage, and that EMMC is in full compliance with EMTALA.”
EMMC had filed a renewed motion for judgment and a motion for a new trial more than a month ago based on three claims.
The Bangor hospital “attacks the verdict, claiming that EMTALA distinguishes between viable and non-viable pregnancies, that the Court erred in allowing a nurse to testify as an expert, and that the trial evidence did not sustain the verdict,” Woodcock said in his decision denying EMMC’s post-verdict motions.
The hospital asked for a new trial “because the Court did not instruct the jury that the ‘may pose a threat’ language of EMTALA depends on whether the woman in labor has any medical condition that could interfere with the normal, natural delivery of her healthy child,” Woodcock said.
The judge responded by saying he rejected the same motion during the trial because Morin did not deliver a healthy child, but a dead fetus, and therefore the language did not apply. He again denied the motion.
The issue about whether a veteran nurse called as a witness by the defense should have been allowed to testify also was dealt with during the three-day trial in October, the judge said in rejecting the hospital’s second reason for a new trial. The final assertion, that the evidence didn’t support the verdict, also was denied by Woodcock.
The judge also denied a motion by Morin, which she filed after the October verdict, for the hospital to change its policies regarding the discharge of women going through miscarriages.
“The Court declines to issue such an injunction because the law does not authorize it and the facts do not support it,” Woodcock said.
Greif said his client filed the motion because “she would never want another woman to go through what she went through. This has never been about Lorraine, and this has never been about money.”