In November, 2005, Jyothsna Mody (“Mody”) went to Doctor Anita Sikand (“Dr. Sikand”) at the Center for Woman’s Health, PC, where she was told she required “a diagnostic hysteroscopy, polypectomy, and dilation and curettage in order to remove [two endometrial] polyps” Mody v. Center for Women’s Health, P.C., 998 A.2d 327, 330 (D.C. 2010). Mody agreed to the surgery and in January 2006, Dr. Sikand removed the two endometrial polyps. Id. In general, it had been Dr. Sikand’s practice after performing this type of surgery to look into the uterus to ensure that she had not perforated any uterus tissue, however, her notes did not indicate that she did this after Mody’s surgery. Id. Dr. Sikand’s lawyer argued that she must have looked at the uterus again after the surgery, because she took postoperative photographs, after the polyps had been removed. Id.
Two days after the surgery, Mody called Dr. Sikand and told her that she was having trouble taking in food and fluids, to which Dr. Sikand responded that Mody needed to “ambulate more.” Id. Later the same day, the hospital’s pathology department contacted Dr. Sikand to inform her that bowel tissue was included in the tissue removed from Mody’s uterus. Id. Dr. Sikand immediately called Mody and instructed her to go to the emergency room. Id. Mody did so and spent the next five days in the hospital, and required medical care “for a significant period of time following this second surgery.” Id.
Mody subsequently filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Sikand, where each side had the opportunity to call upon medical expert witnesses to ascertain the proper standard of care in these situations to determine if the Doctor was negligent. Id. Mody called upon Dr. Richard Stokes, who testified that “the procedure employed required that the physician must ‘look back [into the uterus] with the scope,’ and that not looking back was a breach of the standard of care.” Id. Dr. Sikand called upon Dr. Harry Johnson who testified that there was no negligence by Dr. Sikand, because “The standard of care requires the physician to look back only if she had reason to suspect that an injury had occurred.” Id.
After two days of deliberations, the Jury found that Dr. Sikand was not negligent. Id. In response, Mody filed a motion for a new trial challenging the voir dire (jury selection) process utilized by the trial court and that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. Id. The trial court denied the motion and Mody appealed. Id.
Mody objected to the voir dire process employed by the trial court. The jury selection process includes an opportunity for counsel to ask questions to potential jurors, who, based on these answers, may be dismissed from being in the jury. Mody had proposed several questions, of a certain level of specificity, which the trial court refused to ask of the potential jurors. Id. at 331. The trial court replaced three of Mody’s inquiries with less general ones. Mody “requested that the court ask the questions ‘more generally’ because ‘[w]hile [the prospective jurors] may not answer the question… affirmatively, up here [at the bench], we may be able to get information from them by the way that they say it and that indicates that they are either a strike for cause or it might be someone that I might decide to strike. But the way that the question was asked, it’s not going to elicit any yes answers.'” Id. at 332.
The standard of review employed by the DC Court of Appeals in determining the validity of the voir dire process was whether or not the trial court had “abused its discretion.” The DC Court of Appeals ruled, “[j]ust because a particular issue in a trial might conceivably prejudice some venire members against a [party], the [party] does not always have a right to voir dire questions specifically directed to that issue. Moreover, if a court decides to ask a voir dire question suggested by a [party], it is not obliged to ask the question exactly as proposed; instead, the court may alter the wording and make it more general.”Id. at 333. Put a different way, the court does not have to ask jurors questions exactly as they are proposed by counsel, they are free to alter the wording to make it more general.
Mody also argued that the jury’s decision was contrary to the weight of the evidence. Id. Mody argued that “[a]ll experts for both parties agreed that … a practitioner should re-examine the [uterine] cavity in the event that a perforation is suspected, and that a perforation can be detected by a practitioner upon re-examination of the uterine cavity.” Id. at 334. On appeal, the court held that “[a] reasonable jury hearing the evidence in this case was entitled to credit Dr. Sikand’s testimony that she did not suspect perforation and to credit Dr. Johnson’s testimony that the standard of care did not require Dr. Sikand to look back in the circumstances.” Mody v. Ctr. for Women’s Health