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Williams v. Shackelford

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

March 8, 2017



          Reece Moore McNeill Pendergraft, by: Paul D. McNeill, for appellant.

          Sutter & Gillham, PLLC, by: Luther Oneal Sutter; and Brett D. Watson, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by: Brett D. Watson, for appellee.

          PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge.

         This is an appeal from a plaintiff's verdict in a medical-negligence case. The appellant, Dr. Victor Williams, challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting a Pulaski County jury's verdict in favor of the appellee, Bobby Shackelford. In addition, Dr. Williams assigns error to the award of prejudgment interest to Shackelford. We affirm the jury verdict; however, we reverse the award of prejudgment interest.

         Shackelford was referred to Dr. Williams after a biopsy of a lesion in his colon indicated cancer. Dr. Williams ultimately performed an abdominal perineal resection (APR) on Shackelford, an operation that removed Shackelford's rectum. Pathology studies conducted after the surgery, however, revealed that the tumor in Shackelford's rectum was not cancerous. As a result of the surgery, Shackelford is required to wear a permanent colostomy. Shackelford filed a medical-malpractice suit against Dr. Williams, alleging negligence in both his failure to perform sufficient diagnostic testing procedures prior to surgery to determine the stage of the tumor and his failure to obtain informed consent.

         A Pulaski County jury found that Dr. Williams was negligent and awarded Shackelford $1 million in damages on a general-verdict form. After the judgment was entered, Shackelford filed a motion seeking prejudgment interest and costs. The circuit court subsequently entered an order granting Shackelford's motion, finding that he was "entitled to prejudgment interest from the date of the surgery." On appeal, Dr. Williams challenges both the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury's verdict and the circuit court's granting of prejudgment interest.

         I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         In his first argument on appeal, Dr. Williams contends that the circuit court should have granted his motion for directed verdict at trial. Our standard of review of the denial of a motion for directed verdict is whether the jury's verdict is supported by substantial evidence. Padilla v. Archer, 2011 Ark.App. 746, at 5, 387 S.W.3d 267, 270 (citing Medical Assurance Co., Inc. v. Castro, 2009 Ark. 93, 302 S.W.3d 592). Substantial evidence is that which goes beyond suspicion or conjecture and is sufficient to compel a conclusion one way or the other. Id. We do not try issues of fact; rather, we simply review the record for substantial evidence to support the jury's verdict. Id. In determining whether there is substantial evidence, we view the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising therefrom in the light most favorable to the party on whose behalf judgment was entered. Id.

         Dr. Williams argues on appeal that there was a lack of evidence regarding both negligence and informed consent. We are unable to reach the merits of his argument, however, because he failed to sufficiently preserve the issue for appellate review. Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a) (2016) provides in part that a "motion for a directed verdict shall state the specific grounds therefor." The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that the specific ground for a directed verdict is brought to the circuit court's attention. Ouachita Wilderness Inst., Inc. v. Mergen, 329 Ark. 405, 947 S.W.2d 780 (1997) (citing Stacks v. Jones, 323 Ark. 643, 916 S.W.2d 120 (1996)); Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Kilgore, 85 Ark.App. 231, 148 S.W.3d 754 (2004). In order to preserve for appeal the issue of sufficiency of the evidence, the party moving for a directed verdict must state the specific ground upon which it seeks such relief. Ouachita Wilderness, supra. Failure to state the specific grounds for relief in a directed-verdict motion precludes this court's review of the issue on appeal. Id. With these standards in mind, we turn to the motions made by Dr. Williams at trial.

         At the conclusion of Shackelford's case, Dr. Williams moved for directed verdict, stating as follows:

Your Honor, at the conclusion of the plaintiff's proof, the defense would move for a directed verdict on all issues in the case, damage, proximate cause, and standard of care.
I would also state for the record that we don't believe their expert has established familiarity with the local standard to be able to give testimony for that. I'm not exactly sure specifically on the issue of damages, what they're claiming, but if they're claiming any medical bills other than the monthly colostomy, colostomy bag and maintenance, and no evidence of present value and the future, I assume we'll talk ...

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