Justia Medical Malpractice Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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In 2011, 74-year-old Garnell Wilcoxon lived alone. He suffered a stroke, awoke on the floor of his bedroom covered in sweat, feeling sore and with no memory of how he got there. Wilcoxon was admitted to the Troy Regional Medical Center for analysis and treatment for approximately one year before he died. Following Wilcoxon's death, Brenda McFarland, one of Wilcoxon's daughters, filed a complaint as the personal representative for Wilcoxon's estate, asserting claims for : (1) medical malpractice; (2) negligence; (3) breach of contract; (4) negligent hiring, training, supervision, and retention; and (5) loss of consortium. In its answer, Troy Health asserted, in part, that McFarland's claims were barred from being litigated in a court of law "by virtue of an arbitration agreement entered into between plaintiff and defendant." Troy Health then moved to compel arbitration, asserting that forms signed by one of Wilcoxon's other daughters, acting as his attorney-in-fact, contained a valid and enforceable arbitration clause. McFarland argued that "Wilcoxon did not have the mental capacity to enter into the contract with [Troy Health,] and he did not have the mental capacity to give legal authority to enter into contracts on his behalf with" relatives who initially helped admit him to Troy Health facilities when he first fell ill. According to McFarland, "[t]he medical records document that Wilcoxon was habitually and/or permanently incompetent." Therefore, McFarland argued, both a 2011 arbitration agreement and a 2012 arbitration agreement were invalid. The circuit court denied Troy Health's motion to compel arbitration. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that McFarland failed to prove that Wilcoxon was mentally incompetent when he executed a 2012 durable power of attorney naming his other daughter as his attorney-in-fact, and also failed to demonstrate that Wilcoxon was "permanently incompetent" before that date, and because there was no other issue concerning the validity of the 2012 arbitration agreement. View "Troy Health and Rehabilitation Center v. McFarland" on Justia Law

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Siouxland, a group practice of obstetrician-gynecologists, terminated Hagen, its President and an equity owner, invoking the for-cause termination provision in Hagen’s 1993, Employment Agreement, after an incident during which Hagen yelled at Dr. Eastman (another Siouxland doctor) and hospital staff, accusing them of neglecting a patient, resulting in a stillbirth. Hagen also reported the incident to hospital administration and told the Siouxland partners that he was considering reporting to the Iowa state medical board. Hagen advised the patient to sue for malpractice. Hagen filed suit, alleging wrongful retaliatory discharge in violation of Iowa public policy. The other doctors testified about Hagen’s history of workplace conflicts and outbursts and about concern that his suspension by the hospital would hurt the reputation of the practice. A jury awarded Hagen $1,051,814 in compensatory damages. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that Hagen failed to prove he was an at-will employee who may assert a tort claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. The exclusive remedy of a medical professional practicing under Hagen’s Employment Agreement would be a breach of contract claim, which would permit inquiry into the professional conduct the district court found separately protected by the tort of wrongful termination in violation of public policy. View "Hagen v. Siouxland Obstetrics & Gynecology, PC" on Justia Law

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White Oak Manor, Inc. owns and operates a nursing home in York. After sustaining injuries from the improper replacement of a feeding tube, a White Oak resident filed a lawsuit against the nursing home. White Oak ultimately settled the lawsuit without the involvement of its insurer, Lexington Insurance Company. White Oak subsequently filed a declaratory judgment action against Lexington to determine coverage for the malpractice claim. The issue this case presented to the Supreme Court concerned the validity of a service-of-suit clause in an insurance policy in light of Section 15-9-270 of the South Carolina Code (2005) which provides for service of process on an insurer through the Director of the Department of Insurance. The circuit court upheld the service-of-suit clause and refused to relieve the insurer from default judgment. The court of appeals reversed, holding section 15-9-270 provided the exclusive method for serving an insurance company. In its review, the Supreme Court disagreed that section 15-9-270 provided the exclusive means of service on an insurer and held that insurance policy provisions creating alternative methods of service are valid and binding on insurers. Accordingly, the court of appeals' decision was reversed. View "White Oak Manor v. Lexington Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Respondents in this case included Kaiser Foundation Health and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals (collectively, Kaiser). Michael Siopes, a public school teacher, enrolled in a Kaiser health plan offered through the Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund (EUTF). Michael was later diagnosed with cancer by a Kaiser medical professional. Michael and his wife, Lacey, subsequently consulted a medical team at Duke University Medical Center. The Duke team determined that Kaiser's diagnosis was erroneous and recommended a different treatment plan. Michael received treatment at Duke that was ultimately successful. Kaiser denied Michael's request for coverage. Michael and Lacey sued Kaiser for, among other things, breach of contract and medical malpractice. Kaiser filed a motion to compel arbitration, arguing that a group agreement entered into Kaiser and the EUTF was applicable to Michael when he signed the enrollment form. The group agreement contained an arbitration provision. The circuit court granted the motion to compel arbitration. The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court's orders, holding (1) the arbitration provision was unenforceable based on the lack of an underlying agreement between Kaiser and Michael to arbitrate; and (2) accordingly, Lacey was also not bound to arbitrate her claims in this case.View "Siopes v. Kaiser Found. Health Plan, Inc." on Justia Law

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Pearl Archambault died while in the care of Haven Health Center of Greenville (Haven Health) after a nurse mistakenly administered a lethal overdose of morphine. The administratrix of her estate, Plaintiff, filed a medical malpractice action against Haven Health. Health Haven subsequently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Thereafter, Plaintiff amended her complaint to add Columbia Casualty Company, the professional liability insurer of Health Haven, as a defendant and asserted two counts against Columbia directly based on R.I. Gen. Laws 27-7-2.4, which permits an injured party to proceed against an insurer when the insured has filed for bankruptcy. The superior court entered default judgment against Haven Health. The court then granted summary judgment in favor of Columbia. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded with instructions to enter judgment against Columbia, holding that the superior court erred in interpreting Rhode Island law and that the insurance contract between Columbia and Health Haven should be construed in Plaintiff's favor. View "Peloquin v. Haven Health Ctr. of Greenville, LLC" on Justia Law

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These petitions for certiorari pertained to contribution among joint tort-feasors and arose from a medical malpractice action in which Petitioners, the Spences, alleged wrongful death and survival claims against Petitioner Mercy Medical Center and Respondents, a medical doctor and his practices. The issue of contribution arose because the Spences and Mercy entered into a pre-trial settlement by which the Spences agreed to dismiss their claims against Mercy without exacting an admission of liability. After Mercy was dismissed as a party, the case proceeded to trial against Respondents, which resulted in a verdict in favor of the Spences. Respondents subsequently initiated a separate action against Mercy seeking contribution. The Spences contemporaneously brought suit against Respondents seeking a declaration that Respondents were not entitled to contribution. At issue before the Court of Appeals was whether the Spences' release extinguished any right Respondents had to seek contribution against Mercy because Respondents did not join Mercy as a third party defendant in the original action after it was dismissed as a party. The Court of Appeals held that Respondents were not prohibited from pursuing contribution from Mercy in a separate action because the release's conditional language did not fully relieve Mercy's contribution liability. View "Mercy Med. Ctr. v. Julian" on Justia Law

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Attorneys Post and Reid were retained to defend a medical malpractice action. At trial, plaintiffs introduced evidence suggesting that Post and Reid had engaged in discovery misconduct. Fearing that the jury believed that there had been a “cover-up” involving its lawyers, and concerned with the “substantial potential of uninsured punitive exposure,” the hospital, represented by new counsel, settled the case for $11 million, which represented the full extent of its medical malpractice policy limits. The settlement did not release Post, Reid, the law firm where they began representation of the hospital, or their new firm from liability. The hospital threatened Post with a malpractice suit and sought sanctions. Post eventually brought claims of bad faith and breach of contract against his legal malpractice insurer. The district court awarded $921,862.38 for breach of contract. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the insurer on the bad faith claim and remanded for recalculation of the award, holding that, under the policy, the insurer is responsible for all costs incurred by Post in connection with the hospital’s malpractice claim from October 12, 2005 forward and for all costs incurred by Post to defend the sanctions proceedings from February 8, 2006 forward. View "Post v. St. Paul Travelers Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Brian Fitzgerald appealed for a second time the district court's award to him of $33,333 in quantum meruit - for his services in a medical malpractice case appellee had settled on behalf of Wende Nostro, a client Fitzgerald had referred to appellee - based on the unjust enrichment he conferred on appellee. The court held that the initial measure of Fitzgerald's quantum meruit award was one-third of appellee's $500,000 recovery from the Nostro settlement, or $166,666. The court further held that the $166,666 amount should be reduced to the extent Fitzgerald decreased the overall value to appellee of the Nostro case. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's order and remanded with instructions that the district court enter a final quantum meruit award of $100,000 for Fitzgerald. View "Crockett & Myers, Ltd., et al. v. Napier, Fitzgerald & Kirby, LL, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and his wife (the Kaplans) filed suit against Mayo Clinic Rochester, Inc., other Mayo entities (collectively, Mayo), and Mayo doctors David Nagorney and Lawrence Burgart, making a number of claims arising out of plaintiff's erroneous diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and plaintiff's surgery based on that diagnosis. The Kaplans subsequently appealed the judgments in favor of Mayo and Dr. Burgart on their negligent-failure-to-diagnose and contract claims. The court held that the error, if any, in admitting a certain medical file, which included insurance documents, into evidence did not affect the Kaplans' substantial rights and the Kaplans were not prejudiced by the district court's decision not to give a limiting instruction. The court agreed with the district court that the Kaplans' assertion that the biopsy slides might have been tampered with was based on rank speculation where they failed to present evidence that the slides had been changed in any way. The court also held that the Kaplans have shown no basis for granting them a new trial on their claim for negligent failure to diagnose. The court held, however, that the district court erred in granting judgment as a matter of law where the Kaplans have offered sufficient evidence in their case-in-chief to support a breach-of-contract claim. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Kaplan, et al. v. Mayo Clinic, et al." on Justia Law