Phillips v. HarmonAnnotate this Case
Lee V. Phillips IV, by and through his mother Santhonia Hector, and Hector individually (collectively “Plaintiffs”), brought a medical malpractice action against certified nurse midwife (“CNM”) Marcia Harmon, Deborah Haynes, M.D., Eagles Landing OB-GYN Associates, P.C., Eagles Landing OB-GYN Associates II, LLC, and Henry Medical Center, Inc. (collectively “Defendants”). Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants’ negligence caused Phillips to suffer oxygen deprivation shortly before birth, resulting in severe, permanent neurological injuries, including spastic quadriplegia, blindness, and an inability to speak. A jury returned a verdict for the Defendants. Plaintiffs filed a motion for a new trial, alleging that the trial court erred by engaging in a communication with the jury when neither the parties nor their attorneys were present, and by refusing to give their requested jury charge on the spoliation of evidence. The trial court denied the motion, and Plaintiffs appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to give Plaintiffs' requested charge on spoliation of evidence; however, it reversed the trial court’s denial of Plaintiffs’ motion for new trial after determining that Plaintiffs were entitled to a new trial because the trial court responded to a note from the jury during the course of their deliberations without ever advising the parties or their counsel that the communication had taken place. After review, the Supreme Court found that the trial court's exercise of discretion in ruling that Defendants had no duty to preserve certain paper fetal monitor strips, and the appellate court's upholding of that ruling, appeared to rest on a legally incorrect premise that a defendant's duty to preserve evidence required actual notice of a claim or litigation. "Consequently, the judgment of the Court of Appeals in regard to the spoliation issue cannot be upheld, and to the extent that the Court of Appeals cases dealing with the issue of spoliation may be read as endorsing the erroneous analysis used in this case." The Court affirmed in all other respects.