Styles v. Ceranski

In Styles v. Ceranski, 185 Ariz. 448, 916 P.2d 1164 (App. 1996), a medical malpractice lawsuit, the trial court entered a pretrial order limiting each side to one standard-of-care expert witness. 185 Ariz. at 452, 916 P.2d at 1168. During plaintiff's examination of damages witnesses from the Mayo Clinic, however, the court permitted plaintiff to elicit opinions concerning the adequacy of the defendant-physician's prior medical care of plaintiff. Id. The court was persuaded that such testimony was appropriate to explain plaintiff's later treatment needs. Id. In her closing argument, however, plaintiff relied heavily on the Mayo Clinic experts' opinions regarding the adequacy of defendant's medical care. Id. The Court held that a new trial on liability and damages was warranted as plaintiff's argument "unfairly exploited trial court rulings on admission of evidence and boldly disregarded pretrial orders limiting each party to one standard of care witness." Id. at 453, 916 P.2d at 1169. Plaintiff's misconduct probably affected the verdict, the court reasoned, because she effectively offered four standard-of-care witnesses while defendant was limited to one such witness. See id. Additionally, the jury's decision to award all damages requested by plaintiff increased the likelihood the jury accepted the Mayo Clinic experts' opinions on liability as well as their opinions on damages. Id. The Court determined that a "retrial should be granted on both liability and damages 'when the issues are interwoven and cannot be separated without injustice to the opposing party.'" 185 Ariz. at 451-52, 916 P.2d at 1167-68 (quoting Anderson v. Muniz, 21 Ariz. App. 25, 28, 515 P.2d 52, 55 (1973)). The Court found that, although the trial court had limited each party to only one standard of care witness, the plaintiffs had nonetheless introduced the testimony of three additional witnesses regarding the standard of care under the guise of damages witnesses. Id. at 452, 916 P.2d at 1168. The Court recognized that the testimony of the three damages witnesses "reflected the intertwining of liability and damages and probably affected the verdict." Id. at 453, 916 P.2d at 1169. The Court therefore remanded for a new trial on all issues. Id. at 454, 916 P.2d at 1170.