Justia Medical Malpractice Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Plaintiff appealed from a judgment entered in favor of Defendant, on Plaintiff’s action for medical malpractice after the trial court denied her motion under Batson v. Kentucky (1986) 476 U.S. 79 (Batson) and People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258 (Wheeler). At issue on appeal is whether under California law an attorney may properly strike a prospective juror based on the disability of the juror’s family member. Historically Batson/Wheeler motions have been analyzed, as the trial court did here, in terms of whether the justification for excusing a prospective juror is race-neutral. However, in 2015 the Legislature expanded the scope of cognizable groups protected under Batson/Wheeler by its enactment of Assembly Bill No. 87 (2015-2016 Reg. Sess.) Section 1 (Assembly Bill 87).   On appeal, Plaintiff argued that Defendant’s striking of the two prospective jurors based on the disabilities of their family members was itself based on protected characteristics. The Second Appellate District reversed the trial court's judgment. The court explained that there is no dispute that the justifications provided for excusing the two jurors were their association with disabled family members. Defendant’s attorney stated that because one of the juror’s children was disabled, Defendant’s attorney “felt that this particular juror may be too sympathetic to this particular plaintiff to make a reasonable decision on the evidence.” Accordingly, the Second Appellate District agreed with Plaintiff and reversed the trial court’s ruling and direct the trial court to vacate its order denying the Batson/Wheeler motion and to enter a new order granting the motion and setting the matter for a new trial. View "Unzueta v. Akopyan" on Justia Law

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The parties to this appeal were: (1) plaintiffs in 20 separate medical malpractice lawsuits filed against two doctors and a medical spa; and (2) defendants in those lawsuits (i.e., the two doctors and the medical spa). Plaintiffs and Defendants resolved the underlying lawsuits by entering into a global settlement agreement pursuant to which Defendants agreed to pay Plaintiffs $575,000 in two installments. If the installments were not paid on time, liquidated damages would be assessed at the rate of $50,000 per month and $1,644 per day, up to a cap of $1.5 million. When Defendants failed to pay either installment, Plaintiffs moved to enforce the settlement agreement, including the liquidated damages provision. Defendants opposed the motion, arguing the liquidated damages provision was unreasonable and thus invalid pursuant to California Civil Code section 1671(b). The trial court found Defendants failed to establish the provision was unreasonable under the circumstances, and it entered judgment against Defendants in the amount of $1,393,084 (the settlement amount of $575,000 plus $818,084 in liquidated damages). Defendants appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Gormley v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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Appellant is a severely disabled child whose congenital abnormalities went undetected during his mother’s pregnancy until after viability. Appellant sued various medical providers for wrongful life, settling with one in 2018. The California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) asserted a lien on Appellant's settlement to recover what DHCS paid for Appellant's care. The trial court awarded DHCS the full amount of the lien and Appellant appealed.The Second Appellate District reversed. Although the court rejected Appellant's claim that the DHCS lien is preempted by federal law and that there is no substantial evidence that Appellant's settlement included payments for past medical expenses, the Second Appellate District found that the trial court erred by failing to distinguish between past medical expenses and other damages. View "Daniel C. v. White Memorial Medical Center" on Justia Law

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On November 4, 2016, Kernan had an External Cephalic Version (ECV) procedure to rotate her healthy 39-week fetus from a breech position. The hospital recorded the ECV as successful. Post-procedure fetal monitoring was “reassuring.” The next day, Kernan could not detect fetal movement and returned to the hospital. After an ultrasound, doctors informed Kernan that she had suffered an intrauterine fetal demise and that they could not determine the cause of death. They noted that nothing in the literature linked ECV with fetal demise. Kernan delivered a stillborn baby on November 7. The delivery doctor, Vargas, told Kernan that he could not see any indicators as to why Kernan’s baby died. Kernan eventually ordered an autopsy. After months of delay due to Dr. Vargas not responding to Kernan’s requests to review the autopsy report with her, Kernan met with Dr. Kerns on July 10, 2017, and learned that doctors had discussed her case during a morbidity and mortality conference. Kernan claims she first became subjectively suspicious of medical negligence during that meeting. On November 6, 2017, Kernan served notice of her intention to file suit. Within 90 days, she filed her negligence complaint.The court rejected the suit as time-barred under Code of Civil Procedure 340.5’s one-year limitations period. The court of appeal reversed. The hospital’s records demonstrate that reasonable minds could differ as to whether Kernan should have suspected negligent performance of the ECV on November 5, 2016. View "Kernan v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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The issue in this appeal is whether respondent Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital (Hospital) can be held liable for the alleged negligence of its staff physician. The physician’s patient, Plaintiff, appealed the judgment entered after the trial court granted Hospital’s motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff claimed that the physician had negligently injured him during surgery performed at Hospital. Plaintiff settled his malpractice action against the physician for $1 million, the maximum coverage under the physician’s professional liability insurance policy.   Based on actual agency and ostensible agency theories, Plaintiff sought to hold Hospital vicariously liable for the physician’s negligence. The Second Appellate District affirmed the judgment in Hospital’s favor. The court explained that for actual agency to exist, the principal must in some manner indicate that the agent is to act for him, and the agent must act or agree to act on his behalf and subject to his control. By producing the “Physician Recruitment Agreement” between Hospital and the physician, Hospital satisfied its initial burden of production as well as its burden of persuasion for summary judgment purposes. In his reply brief Plaintiff alleged, “Because of the extent of [Hospital’s] control over the physician’s practice of medicine, except for how he actually treated patients, the physician was an actual agent of Hospital.” Accordingly, summary judgment was properly granted as to Plaintiff’s claim of actual agency. For summary judgment purposes, Hospital satisfied its initial burden of production as well as its burden of persuasion that the physician was not its ostensible agent. View "Franklin v. Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff brought a medical malpractice action against her personal, treating physician, Golden Valley Health Centers, and Doctors Medical Center of Modesto (“DMC”), after suffering complications and injuries as a result of a hysterectomy procedure performed by her physician at DMC. The complaint alleged a single cause of action, medical negligence, as to all defendants. Potential liability on the part of DMC was premised primarily on an ostensible or apparent agency theory. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of DMC.   The Fifth Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s judgment and held that the trial court property granted DMC’s motion for summary judgment. The court explained that a hospital is liable for a physician’s malpractice when the physician is actually employed or is the ostensible agent of the hospital. Further, unless the patient had some reason to know of the true relationship between the hospital and the physician ostensible agency is readily inferred.   Here, the undisputed facts show that Plaintiff did not rely on an apparent agency relationship between DMC and her treating physician in seeking and receiving surgical care. Rather, Plaintiff herself chose her physician as her treating physician and elected to undergo the procedure at issue under the guidance of her physician and on the condition that it would be performed by her. These undisputed facts conclusively establish that, under the circumstances, Plaintiff reasonably should have known that the physician was not an agent of the hospital; rather, she utilized the hospital’s surgical facilities to provide surgical care to her own patients. View "Magallanes de Valle v. Doctors Medical Center of Modesto" on Justia Law

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Acting pro se, plaintiff-appellant Timothy Simms wanted to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit against defendant-respondent Bear Valley Community Healthcare District (Bear Valley). He appealed a judgment denying his petition under Government Code section 946.6, in which he sought relief from the requirement in the California Government Claims Act that he timely present a claim to Bear Valley before bringing a suit for damages. The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment, finding that Simms did not require relief from the claim presentation requirement because he in fact submitted a timely claim, and the trial court erred by ruling he had not done so. Although Simms’s claim was deficient in certain respects, its submission triggered a statutory duty for Bear Valley to notify Simms of the defects, and the failure to notify him waived any defense as to the claim’s sufficiency. As such, Simms should have been permitted to file a complaint. View "Simms v. Bear Valley Community Heathcare Dist." on Justia Law

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A surgeon and his clinic sought a writ from the Court of Appeal directing the trial court to vacate its order allowing the survivors of a patient who died from a surgical procedure to amend their complaint to assert a claim for punitive damages. The Court of Appeal determined the evidence of the misconduct of the surgeon and the employees of his clinic that the survivors submitted with their motion for leave to amend, if believed by the trier of fact, might well support an award of punitive damages. Nevertheless, because the survivors did not move to amend within the time mandated by statute, the Court granted the requested relief. View "Divino Plastic Surgery, Inc. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Pappas sued Dr. Chang for malpractice. During mediation, they agreed that Chang would pay Pappas $100,000. Both parties and their counsel signed a settlement agreement, which provided that Pappas “will execute a release of all claims ... in a more comprehensive settlement agreement ... to include a provision for mutual confidentiality as to the facts ... the terms and amount of this agreement.” The parties unsuccessfully negotiated the “more comprehensive settlement agreement” and “provision for mutual confidentiality” for months. Pappas discharged her attorney and, representing herself, advised Chang’s attorney that she would only comply with a confidentiality provision if she received $525,000, then sued Chang for breach of contract.The trial court ruled against Pappas “because she has not signed a ‘more comprehensive settlement agreement’ and release which includes a provision for mutual confidentiality.” In consolidated appeals, the court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that a confidentiality provision would be against public policy and violate the Business and Professions Code. The court also rejected Chang’s appeal of the trial court’s denial of her attorney fees as costs of proof at trial (Code Civ. Proc., 2033.420) based on its finding that Pappas’s denial of two requests for admission was based on a good faith belief she would prevail at trial and that the requests went to the ultimate issue. View "Pappas v. Chang" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of defendant, a neurosurgeon, in a medical malpractice action against defendant and others, alleging claims related to plaintiff's treatment in the emergency room. Plaintiff and his wife alleged that emergency surgery should have taken place sooner than six hours after his arrival at the emergency room because time was of the essence in removing a blood clot. After the surgery, plaintiff ended up partially quadriplegic.The court concluded that the trial court did not err in declining to instruct the jury with CACI 509 (Abandonment of Patient) as the instruction was not supported by substantial evidence. The court also concluded that CACI 411 (Reliance on the Good Conduct of Others) did not prejudice plaintiffs. Furthermore, the trial court's refusal to give CACI 430 (Causation: Substantial Factor) and CACI 431 (Causation: Multiple Causes) and its decision to give Defense Special Instruction No. 2 are moot in light of the jury's finding of no negligence. Finally, plaintiff's challenge to CACI 506 (Alternative Methods of Care) is waived, and the trial court did not err in refusing to give BAJI 6.15, which defined "emergency." View "Zannini v. Liker" on Justia Law