Bioethics Blogs

Jahi McMath Family Moves to Bifurcate Trial

Last week, the family of Jahi McMath filed a motion to bifurcate the trial against the healthcare providers whom they allege harmed Jahi in December 2013.

The McMath family proposes to first have a trial on whether the defendants committed malpractice.  Their theories of malpractice include, among others:

  • Decision to perform drastic surgery without first trying less invasive options
  • Failure to account for a congenital abnormality
  • Failure to provide adequate post-operative care
  • Failure to perform appropriate resuscitation
  • Pressuring family to donate organs

While medical malpractice is complicated litigation, it is comparatively the simpler issue in this lawsuit.  It will require only a 7-10 day trial.  

If the jury does not find liability, then there is no need to determine whether or not Jahi is alive or dead.  That is the key benefit of bifurcation.  It avoids the need to present evidence on issues (amount of damages) that could be irrelevant depending on the resolution of other issues (liability).  

On the other hand, if the jury does find liability, then it will be necessary to have a trial on damages.  The jury must determine whether to award damages for wrongful death or damages for future medical treatment.  This phase is expected to consume weeks of trial, with “medial and ethical” experts from Cuba, New Jersey,  and Los Angeles.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.