Court Denies Hope for Women Motion for Trial by Referee
Monrovia – Judge Scheaplor Dunbar of Civil Law Court ‘B’ has denied a motion for trial by referee filed by Hope for Women International and Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah in the case Damages for Wrongful death.
Report by Bettie Johnson-Mbayo, [email protected]
Hope for Women and Dr. Jallah are both sued by the late Desiree Fahnbulleh’s family after the deceased died at the medical facility while undergoing surgery.
The case titled, “The Intestate Estate of the Late Desiree Fahnbulleh vs Hope for Women Inc, Dr. Jallah,” who filed a motion to hear the case without a jury, requesting the judge to decide the case but was denied by Judge Dunbar.
Representing the medical facility, Cllr. Amara Sheriff argued that the case is a medical malpractice and the jurors will not know that there was negligence committed by his clients.
“The only person that will determine will be someone of high medical knowledge and we can’t present hard facts to someone who has no knowledge of medicine,” he said.
The movants (defendant) filed a 5-count motion by referee in which they cited 24.1 1LCLR that provides that in an action pending before a circuit court, the court may appoint, on motion of any party or on its own motion, a referee to take evidence, makes findings, and determines specific issues, to report issues, to perform particular acts, or only to receive and report evidence.
The order of the referee may fix the time and place for beginning and close the hearings and for the filling of the referee’s report.
A reference to a referee shall be the exception and not the rule. In actions to be tried by a jury, a reference shall be made only when the issues are complicated, in actions to be tried without a jury, a reference shall be made only to determine matters of accounts or upon a showing that some exceptional conditions required it.
Cllr. Sheriff said the action against his clients is a case of the first impression and for the proper understanding of the medical profession, particularly those medical practitioners that have acquired advanced education, training and a wealth of experience that will determine whether or not movants were negligent that may have led to the death of the deceased.
He alleged that “No ordinary person who is without medical training and knowledge will be able to analyze, understand and arrive at a verdict that would be consistent with the evidence that is produced at the trial.”
Cllr. Sheriff further said the case is complex and is of high technical allegations contained in the complaint, “It is only people of same medical profession proper that will be able to arrive at the independent judgment as to whether or not there was medical malpractice.”
He recommended that the court appoints an independent panel to analyze the evidence and submit its report to the court.
In response, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe objected to the motion stating that Section 24.2 of the Civil Procedure Law mandates that there must be consent amongst the parties, which shall be evidenced by stipulation filed with the clerk and that the respondents (complainant) have consented to trial by a referee.
He said trial by a referee is their constitutional right demanding a jury because of the case nature.
“Liberia has had many complicated cases that have been decided by the jury, ranging from murder, treason, damages for wrong and damages for breach of contract.”
“The motion cannot stand due to the specialized nature and knowledge of the medical profession, movants secured expert opinion through the Ministry of Health from the Liberia Medical and Dental Board, which is an instrumentality of the state responsible for the investigation of medical malpractice.”
Judge Dunbar said the motion and resistance and oral argument of both lawyers present one cardinal issue for determination.
“The issue is whether the movant has alleged sufficient valid reason for the granting of the motion for trial by a referee, the answer is no.”
He cited Section 24.2 of the Civil Procedure Law, which requires consent by the parties as a pre-condition for ordering a trial by a referee.
“There is no argument among the parties to submit this case to a panel of referee, this court says that movant (defendant) contention that the case is complicated is not a valid a ground for granting the motion, the parties are expected to produce expert witnesses during trial who will assist the jury in making a decision on a complicated issue.”
Judge Dunbar added that many cases that were complicated have been decided by the jury with the help of the expert opinions and testimonies.