Cockayne v. Bristol Hosp., Inc.

Citation210 Conn.App. 450,270 A.3d 713
Decision Date08 February 2022
Docket NumberAC 44241
Parties Bruce COCKAYNE et al. v. The BRISTOL HOSPITAL, INC., et al.
CourtAppellate Court of Connecticut

Tadhg Dooley, New Haven, with whom were Jeffrey R. Babbin, New Haven, and, on the brief, Michael G. Rigg, Hartford, for the appellants (defendants).

Jack G. Steigelfest, Hartford, with whom were Thomas P. Cella, Hartford, and, on the brief, Brian D. Danforth, Tolland, for the appellees (plaintiffs).

Prescott, Alexander and Bishop, Js.

ALEXANDER, J.

The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether the plaintiffs, Bruce Cockayne and Marion Cockayne, presented sufficient evidence in support of their claim of medical malpractice by employees of the defendant The Bristol Hospital, Inc.1 Following the jury's verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, the defendant moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and to set aside the verdict. The trial court denied these motions and rendered judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict. On appeal, the defendant claims that the court improperly denied (1) its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and (2) its motion to set aside the verdict and order a new trial. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following allegations from the plaintiffs’ complaint underlie this appeal. Count one of the complaint alleged that Bruce Cockayne was admitted to the defendant on February 11, 2014, and, during this admission, he received treatments of a medication administered rectally via enema. During one or more of these treatments, his rectum was perforated. The plaintiffs alleged that this perforation was proximately caused by the carelessness and negligence of the defendant's agents, servants, or employees.2 Further, the plaintiffs claimed that, due to this carelessness and negligence, Bruce Cockayne had to undergo numerous surgeries, procedures, diagnostic tests, therapies, and the administration of medications. These medical treatments caused him to suffer extreme physical and mental pain and suffering, to incur medical expenses and to have his ability to enjoy life's pleasures curtailed and diminished. Count two of the complaint set forth a loss of consortium claim on behalf of Marion Cockayne.3

Following the presentation of the evidence, the jury reasonably could have found the following facts. In January, 2014, Bruce Cockayne experienced symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting. At that time, he was admitted to the defendant for treatment consisting of bedrest, medication, and a colonoscopy

. At this time, his rectum was described as "largely intact ...." Bruce Cockayne was discharged from the defendant on February 3, 2014. He was prescribed Rowasa enemas to be administered at home.4 Marion Cockayne attempted to administer this type of enema to her husband but was unsuccessful due to his irritation and pain. During the time period of February 2 through 10, 2014, no foreign body was inserted into Bruce Cockayne's rectum.

On February 11, 2014, Bruce Cockayne was readmitted to the defendant after fainting, likely due to continued diarrhea and the resulting loss of fluids. At approximately 9:45 p.m. on February 11, 2014, and approximately 8 p.m. on February 12, 2014, Jordan Kaine, a nurse employed by the defendant, administered a Rowasa

enema to Bruce Cockayne in the course of her employment duties. At approximately 8 p.m. on February 13, 2014, Elaine Medina Lapaan, a nurse employed by the defendant, administered a Rowasa enema to Bruce Cockayne in the course of her employment duties.5

On the morning of February 14, 2014, Bruce Cockayne suffered a "massive rectal bleed" and was transferred to the intensive care unit. An embolization procedure

successfully stopped the bleeding. Following a CT scan, Rainer Bagdasarian, a physician, operated on Bruce Cockayne and performed, inter alia, an endoscopy. During this procedure, Bagdasarian determined that an internal hemorrhoid located on the left lateral anal canal caused the bleeding.6 Bagdasarian also discovered that, just past the end of the anal canal and distinct from the internal hemorrhoid, "there was a large, two centimeter, older appearing perforation in the posterior right rectum ...." Bagdasarian performed an ileostomy to divert feces away from the perforation and to prevent it from spilling into the perineum, the space outside of the rectum.7 Despite this effort, Bruce Cockayne developed a necrotizing infection and his health deteriorated precipitously due to sepsis. He required numerous medical procedures at multiple facilities, including Hartford Hospital and Gaylord Hospital.8

On July 29, 2016, the plaintiffs commenced the present action against the defendant. Specifically, they claimed that the defendant was vicariously liable9 for the negligence of its employees who perforated Bruce Cockayne's rectum during the course of an enema administration. The complaint also set forth Marion Cockayne's derivative claim for loss of consortium. A trial was conducted over several days in January, 2020. After the plaintiffs rested, the defendant moved for a directed verdict, claiming that the plaintiffs had failed to present an evidentiary basis (1) as to when the perforation of the rectum had occurred and, therefore, which of the defendant's employees, Lapaan or Kaine, had breached the applicable standard of care and (2) to support their claim that the tip of the Rowasa

enema was long enough to cause the perforation. The court reserved its decision on the defendant's motion for a directed verdict and permitted the issues to be submitted to the jury.10

On January 24, 2020, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. As to the medical malpractice claim alleged in count one of the complaint, the jury awarded Bruce Cockayne $382,732.21 in past economic damages and $2,105,027.16 in noneconomic damages. As to the loss of consortium claim alleged in count two of the complaint, the jury awarded Marion Cockayne $720,000.

On March 2, 2020, and in accordance with its prior motion for a directed verdict, the defendant filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict pursuant to Practice Book §§ 16-35 and 16-37. That same day, the defendant also filed a motion to set aside the verdict and sought a new trial pursuant to Practice Book § 16-35. In two memoranda of decisions dated August 25, 2020, the court denied the defendant's postverdict motions. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

I

The defendant first claims that the court improperly denied its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. It contends that the plaintiffs presented insufficient evidence that either Kaine or Lapaan, the nurses employed by the defendant, negligently caused the perforation in Bruce Cockayne's rectum. Specifically, the defendant argues that the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, failed to prove that (1) the Rowasa

enema physically could have caused the perforation in the posterior of the rectum and (2) the defendant's employees negligently administered the enema. The plaintiffs counter that they presented sufficient evidence for the jury to find that the Rowasa enema perforated the rectum and that the perforation was caused by the negligence of one of the nurses in administering the enemas. We agree with the plaintiffs.

As a preliminary matter, we address the applicable standard of review. The parties do not agree on the standard of review with respect to the issues raised in this appeal. The plaintiffs argue that the abuse of discretion standard applies while the defendant contends that our review is de novo. We acknowledge that numerous cases from our appellate courts have referred to the abuse of discretion standard in the context of reviewing the decision of the trial court regarding a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a motion to set aside the verdict. See, e.g., Landmark Investment Group, LLC v. CALCO Construction & Development Co. , 318 Conn. 847, 862–63, 124 A.3d 847 (2015) ; Ulbrich v. Groth , 310 Conn. 375, 437, 78 A.3d 76 (2013) ; Grayson v. Wofsey, Rosen, Kweskin & Kuriansky , 231 Conn. 168, 178, 646 A.2d 195 (1994) ; Lappostato v. Terk , 143 Conn. App. 384, 408–409, 71 A.3d 552, cert. denied, 310 Conn. 911, 76 A.3d 627 (2013) ; Macchietto v. Keggi , 103 Conn. App. 769, 777, 930 A.2d 817, cert. denied, 284 Conn. 934, 935 A.2d 151 (2007). Nevertheless, we disagree with the plaintiffs that the abuse of discretion standard applies to the defendant's claims.

In the present case, the defendant has challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury's verdict in its motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and to set aside the verdict.11 The standard for appellate review of the denial of a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict is well settled and mirrors the standard applicable to a motion for a directed verdict. "Directed verdicts are not favored. ... A trial court should direct a verdict only when a jury could not reasonably and legally have reached any other conclusion. ... In reviewing the trial court's decision [to deny the defendant's motion for a directed verdict] we must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. ... Although it is the jury's right to draw logical deductions and make reasonable inferences from the facts proven ... it may not resort to mere conjecture and speculation. ... A directed verdict is justified if ... the evidence is so weak that it would be proper for the court to set aside a verdict rendered for the other party. ... The foregoing standard of review also governs the trial court's denial of the defendant's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict because that motion is not a new motion, but [is] the renewal of [the previous] motion for a directed verdict." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Bagley v. Adel Wiggins Group , 327 Conn. 89,...

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    ...for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the basis of insufficient evidence, our review is plenary. Cockayne v. Bristol Hospital, Inc. , 210 Conn. App. 450, 457–59, 270 A.3d 713 (2022), petition for cert. filed (Conn. February 28, 2022) (No. 210338); see also Pellet v. Keller Williams Re......
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