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Mumm v. Jennie Edmundson Memorial Hospital

Supreme Court of Iowa

March 1, 2019

MANDI MUMM, Appellant,

         On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County, Gregory W. Steensland, Judge.

         Mandi Mumm seeks further review of a court of appeals decision affirming a district court's denial of her motion for a new trial.

          Randall J. Shanks and Emily A. Shanks Warren (until withdrawal) of Shanks Law Firm, Council Bluffs, for appellant.

          Michael W. Ellwanger and Laura L. Mommsen (until withdrawal) of Rawlings, Ellwanger, Mohrhauser, Nelson & Roe LLP, Sioux City, for appellee Jennie Edmundson Memorial Hospital.

          Thomas J. Shomaker, Mary M. Schott, and Robert A. Mooney of Sodoro Daly Shomaker PC LLO, Omaha, Nebraska, for appellees Emergency Physicians of Western Iowa, L.L.C. and Paul C. Mileris.

          MANSFIELD, Justice.

         I. Introduction.

         This case raises the recurring question of how to respond to jury questions during deliberations.

         An individual who had been confined in a halfway house suffered a disabling stroke. She sued both the halfway house and an attending emergency room physician at a nearby hospital. She alleged that the halfway house failed to get her needed medical attention and that the physician rendered negligent care, thereby leading to delayed detection and treatment of the stroke. Before trial, she settled with the halfway house and continued to pursue her claim against the physician. The halfway house was listed on the verdict form as a potential nonparty at fault.

         During deliberations, the jury asked, "If we attribute 25% fault to [the physician] and 75% to [the halfway house] would [the plaintiff] only get 25% since [the halfway house] has been released?" The jury also asked, "If [the halfway house] has been released how [is it] still named in the lawsuit?" The district court answered both questions by directing the jury back to the original instructions, although those instructions did not explain the effect of any fault allocation. Thereafter, the jury returned a verdict that the physician was not negligent and, as advised by the verdict form, stopped there.

         Appealing from a denial of her motion for new trial, the plaintiff argues that the district court should have answered "yes" to the jury's first question. The court of appeals found no abuse of discretion and affirmed. On further review, we likewise find no abuse of discretion. Although the district court could have-and probably should have-given an affirmative answer to the first question, we are unable to find any prejudice on this record. The jury surely understood that its verdict would result in no damages being awarded against the physician; therefore, any jury confusion as to whether an award of some damages would be reduced was immaterial. Furthermore, the plaintiff has not provided us with a transcript of any portion of the trial, making it even more difficult to find potential prejudice. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals and the judgment of the district court.

         II. Facts and Procedural History.

         Because no transcript was ordered of the jury trial, our summary of the facts is necessarily somewhat limited. Mandi Mumm's appellate brief cites to her petition, not to the trial record, for factual support.

         Nonetheless, some facts appear to be undisputed. In early 2014, when she was thirty-three years old, Mumm was released from federal prison into a halfway house operated by CH, Inc. under a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

         On February 11, 2014, Mumm became ill and received permission to go to a clinic for medical care. She had complaints of headache, neck pain, and dizziness. Her diagnoses were headache and acute sinusitis. After being seen by the clinic and prescribed one medication, she returned to the CH halfway house.

         On February 14, Mumm was still not feeling well and received permission to go to the emergency room of Jennie Edmundson Hospital in Council Bluffs. Mumm complained of a worsening of her headache, nausea, dizziness, and vomiting. She reported that she had a history of migraines. She was seen by an emergency room physician, Dr. Paul Mileris. Dr. Mileris ordered a CT exam of her head that was reported as normal. Mumm was treated with medication and released back to the halfway house.

         Mumm's condition did not improve at CH. According to Mumm's petition, on February 16, she became very ill and began exhibiting signs of a stroke. She looked ill, she was sweating, her throat was swollen, she could not breathe, and the right side of her face was drooping. However, Mumm was not released by CH to return to the emergency room for approximately twenty-four hours.

         On February 17, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Mumm arrived again at the emergency room. She was triaged at 10:40 p.m. and seen by Dr. Mileris at 11:29 p.m. An MRI of her brain was performed, and it was determined that she was suffering a cerebral stroke with vertebral dissection. She was transferred to the University of Nebraska Medical Center later in the morning where she remained hospitalized for approximately two months. Mumm remains confined today to a wheelchair and suffers bilateral paralysis.

         On November 12, 2015, Mumm filed suit in the Pottawattamie County District Court against CH. The next day, she amended her petition to add Sidney Strnad, a supervisor at CH. On February 9, 2016, Mumm filed a motion to amend her petition to add Dr. Mileris, Emergency Physicians of Western Iowa, L.L.C. (Dr. Mileris's employer), and Jennie Edmundson Hospital as defendants. On July 25, Mumm dismissed CH and Strnad, having reached a settlement with them. On September 22, Mumm amended her petition a third time.

         Jury trial commenced on August 28, 2017. By the time of trial, the parties had agreed there was no independent claim of liability against the hospital; its liability, if any, derived from that of Dr. Mileris.[1] Trial proceeded for eight days.

         The case was submitted to the jury on September 8. The statement of the case had explained to the jury that Dr. Mileris denied any negligence and claimed that it was CH's negligence that caused injury to Mumm.

         Instruction 22, the marshalling instruction, stated,

In order for Mandi Mumm to recover against Dr. Paul Mileris, she must prove all of the following propositions:
1. That Dr. Mileris was negligent on February 14, 2014, for failing to use the degree of skill, care and learning ordinarily possessed and exercised by other emergency room physicians in similar circumstances.
2. That his negligence caused injury and damage to Mandi Mumm.
3. The amount of damages.
If the Plaintiff has failed to prove any of these propositions, she is not entitled to damages. If the Plaintiff has proved all of these propositions, the Plaintiff is entitled to damages in some amount, and you will then compare the fault of Dr. Mileris ...

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