Radunka Runjo appeals from a judgment dismissing her malpractice complaint against Donald J. Chrzan, M.D. and St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company. Runjo claims that the verdict questions and jury instructions regarding damages were improperly formulated so as to be confusing and inconsistent. Because the directions contained in the verdict, when combined with certain jury instructions were confusing and inconsistent causing prejudice, we reverse and remand for a new trial.
Runjo filed a medical malpractice action against Chrzan alleging both negligence and failure to obtain informed consent before performing elective facial plastic surgery to decrease the size of her nose. Runjo claims the surgery caused permanent injury and disfigurement. Runjo timely requested a verdict form wherein the jury was directed to answer the damage questions only if it answered "yes" either to the question inquiring whether negligence found by the jury was causal or to the question inquiring whether failure to obtain informed consent was causal.
After the trial court informed the jury about the duty of Dr. Chrzan as a surgeon and his duty to adequately inform a patient, the trial court further instructed the jury:
The action was tried to a jury that returned a verdict: (1) finding that Chrzan was not negligent in treating Runjo; (2) finding that Chrzan did not perform Runjo's procedures without obtaining her informed consent; (3) awarding damages to Runjo of $15,000 for past and future hospital/medical expenses, $2,200 for loss of earnings, and $24,500 for past and future pain, suffering and disability. Runjo moved to set aside the verdict and for a new trial. Her motion was denied. Judgment was entered dismissing her complaint and she now appeals.
Runjo claims she is entitled to a new trial because the jury instructions, when combined with the special verdict, were inconsistent and confusing to the jury. Runjo argues that the inconsistency and confusion
In response, Chrzan argues that there is no basis in the record for the proposition that the jury was misled or confused in any way as evidenced by the absence of any question directed to the trial court by the jury during deliberations. Chrzan points out that the jury instructions at issue are standard civil instructions suggested by the Wisconsin Civil Jury Instructions Committee. In addition, the verdict form is of a standard content and reflects the well-recognized policy in this state that a jury is not to be informed of the effect of its verdict. Finally, Chrzan contends, "the instructions and verdict . . . fairly address the factual issues of this case as both addressed issues of negligence and informed consent." We are not persuaded by Chrzan's arguments.
A trial court has wide discretion in framing the special verdict. Maci v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 105 Wis.2d 710, 719, 314 N.W.2d 914, 919 (Ct. App. 1981). We shall not reverse unless the question does not fairly represent the material issue of fact to the jury. Id. Similarly, trial courts have wide discretion in deciding what instructions will be given so long as they fully and fairly inform the jury of the principles of law applied to the particular case. D.L. v. Huebner, 110 Wis.2d 581, 624, 329 N.W.2d 890, 909 (1983). Still, a
The purpose of all judicial process is to achieve justice. In applying our well recognized procedural rubrics and standards of review, we must be ever vigilant that justice is secured and process does not become an unwelcomed impediment. The existence of exceptions in our standard form of process serves to eliminate the unwarranted and unreasonable hardships that are inflicted by procrustean application of these very same processes. Where jury instructions appear on their face inconsistent and confusing, we are required to examine the context in which the jury received the contradicting instructions to determine whether the verdict itself inspires no confidence.
The damage instructions given to the jury, both in the verdict form and as actually read to them, unquestionably directed the jury to award damages regardless of the answers it made to the liability questions. In juxtaposition, however, the jury instructions also unquestionably instructed the jury to only award damages "if you have determined that a reasonable person in Radunka Runjo's position would not have consented to the operation." Although neither instruction, in and
We conclude that the combination of these instructions, together with the instructions on the verdict, probably misled the jury and resulted in an inconsistent verdict. To the liability question of whether Dr. Chrzan had performed any surgical procedures on Runjo without obtaining her informed consent, the jury answered "no." In sequence, however, the jury was instructed to award damages only if there was a determination that a fully informed reasonable person would not have consented to the medical procedure. In other words, in contrast to the general instruction to award damages regardless of the liability answers, the jury was also instructed to award damages only if they found Chrzan did not obtain informed consent. The
Accordingly, we must reverse the judgment and remand for a new trial.
By the Court.—Judgment reversed and cause remanded.
The plaintiff, by Kersten & McKinnon, S.C., her attorneys, requests the following form of jury verdict herein:
Question No. 1: Was Dr. Chrzan negligent in treating Mrs. Runjo? YES___ NO ___
Question No. 2: If you have answered question no. 1 yes, then answer this question: Was such negligence a cause of injury or damage to Mrs. Runjo? YES___NO___
Question No. 3: Did Dr. Chrzan perform any of his surgical procedures on Mrs. Runjo without obtaining her informed consent? YES___NO___
Question No. 4: If you have answered question no. 3 yes, then answer this question: Was such failure to obtain informed consent a cause of injury or damage to Mrs. Runjo? YES___NO___
Question No. 5: What sum of money will fairly and reasonably compensate Mrs. Runjo for:
Was Dr. Chrzan negligent in treating Mrs. Runjo?
If your answer to Question No. 1 is "Yes", then answer this question: Was such negligence a cause of injury or damage to Mrs. Runjo?
Did Dr. Chrzan perform any of his surgical procedures on Mrs. Runjo without obtaining her informed consent?
If your answer to Question No. 3 is "Yes", then answer this question: Was such failure to obtain informed consent a cause of injury or damage to Mrs. Runjo?