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Pina v. Christensen

May 13, 2009

THERESA PIÑA AND JUAN PIÑA, APPELLANTS (PLAINTIFFS),
v.
L. CHARLES CHRISTENSEN, M.D., APPELLEE (DEFENDANT).



Appeal from the District Court of Park County The Honorable Wade E. Waldrip, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Golden, Justice

Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] Theresa and Juan Piña brought an action against Dr. Charles Christensen for medical malpractice. After a jury trial, the jury found no negligence on the part of Dr. Christensen. The Piñas appeal, arguing the jury instructions misled the jury as to the appropriate standard of care. Finding no error in the jury instructions, we affirm.

ISSUE

[¶2] The Piñas present the issue in this case as whether the trial court prejudicially erred when it instructed the jury: "Before you may find that [Dr. Christensen] was negligent in his care and treatment of [Mrs. Piña], you must first find, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he failed to act in accordance with the standard of care adhered to by the American Board of Urology."

FACTS

[¶3] Only minimal facts need be set out for context. Dr. Christensen is a urologist certified by the American Board of Urology. Dr. Christensen operated on Mrs. Piña to repair her mild urinary incontinence. Complications arose, and Mrs. Piña now suffers from severe urinary incontinence.

[¶4] The Piñas claim Dr. Christensen was negligent in several respects. The jury trial essentially became a battle of experts. In the end, the jury found Dr. Christensen not negligent. Further facts will be developed as necessary below.

DISCUSSION

General Law

[¶5] The function of jury instructions is to give the jury guidance with respect to the applicable law. Instructions are sufficient if they correctly state the law, they are not misleading, and they permit the parties to argue their respective theories of the case. Instructions must not be extracted piecemeal to establish error, but rather are reviewed in their entirety. Hannifan v. American Nat'l Bank of Cheyenne, 2008 WY 65, ¶ 23, 185 P.3d 679, 689 (Wyo. 2008); Three Way, Inc. v. Burton Enterprises, Inc., 2008 WY 18, ¶ 23, 177 P.3d 219, 227 (Wyo. 2008).

[¶6] We review the legal sufficiency of jury instructions de novo, asking first whether an instruction is erroneous, and second whether the error prejudiced a party. Prejudice is not presumed. Sellers v. Dooley Oil Transport, 2001 WY 44, ¶ 9, 22 P.3d 307, 309 (Wyo. 2001); Cervelli v. Graves, 661 P.2d 1032, 1036 (Wyo. 1983). The burden is on the appellant to show prejudicial error. Parrish v. Groathouse Const., Inc., 2006 WY 33, ¶ 7, 130 P.3d 502, 505 (Wyo. 2006); Daley v. Wenzel, 2001 WY 80, ¶ 29, 30 P.3d 547, 554-55 (Wyo. 2001).

[¶7] In general, this Court has stated:

Errors of substantive law contained in the language of an instruction require reversal if the error is prejudicial. Bigley v. Craven, 769 P.2d 892, 895 (Wyo. 1989) (quoting Cervelli v. Graves, 661 P.2d 1032, 1036 (Wyo. 1983)). In reviewing the content of a challenged jury instruction, the charge is considered as a whole. Kemper Architects, P.C. v. McFall, Konkel & Kimball Consulting Engineers, Inc., 843 P.2d 1178, 1182 (Wyo. 1992). To measure the degree of prejudice, jury instructions are viewed in the light of the entire trial, including the allegations of the complaint, conflict in the evidence on critical issues and the arguments of counsel. City of Cheyenne v. Simpson, 787 P.2d 580, 581-82 (Wyo. 1990) (quoting Condict v. Whithead, Zunker, Gage, Davidson & Shotwell, P.C., 743 P.2d 880, 886 (Wyo. 1987)). The goal of our review is to determine if the charge presents a comprehensive, balanced and fundamentally accurate statement of the governing law to the jury. Kemper Architects, P.C., 843 P.2d at 1182; Sims v. General Motors Corp., 751 P.2d 357, 365 (Wyo. 1988) (quoting Norman v. State, 747 P.2d 520, 523 (Wyo. 1987)). The charge is deemed adequate if it is not likely to ...


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