The New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed the decision of a trial court in a medical malpractice claim, finding that any error in instructing the jury had no impact on the result.

In a case involving a lawsuit filed by Sitsofe Awuku against Newark Beth Israel Center, Awuku’s lawyers argued that the jury returned an inconsistent verdict because of errors in the instructions to the jury. In a civil trial, jurors are primarily determiners of fact and are not expected to know the law. For that reason, the court will instruct the jury with respect to the law, telling them that, if they find certain facts to be true, they must make certain conclusions about the law.

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In the Awuku case, the plaintiff had a pre-existing condition that was likely to lead to a stroke. The jury found that the doctors had engaged in negligence by failing to adhere to commonly accepted standards of care. They also concluded, though, that there were no recoverable damages, as the jury concluded that the injuries she suffered were the same as they would have been, had there been no negligence.

Under New Jersey law, when a patient has a pre-existing condition, any deviation from the standard of care by a treating physician will only be considered malpractice if the deviation “increased the risk of harm from the pre-existing condition.” In Awuku, the appellate court found that the breach of care by the doctors at Newark Beth Israel did not increase that risk.

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