Justia Medical Malpractice Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Health Law
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This case presented the questions of whether and how Alaska Statute 09.55.548(b) applied when the claimant’s losses were compensated by an employer’s self-funded health benefit plan governed by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that an ERISA plan did not fall within the statute’s “federal program” exception. Therefore AS 09.55.548(b) required a claimant’s damages award to be reduced by the amount of compensation received from an ERISA plan. But the Supreme Court also concluded that the distinction the statute draws between different types of medical malpractice claimants was not fairly and substantially related to the statute’s purpose of ensuring claimants do not receive a double recovery — an award of damages predicated on losses that were already compensated by a collateral source. "Because insurance contracts commonly require the insured to repay the insurer using the proceeds of any tort recovery, claimants with health insurance are scarcely more likely to receive a double recovery than other malpractice claimants. The statute therefore violates the equal protection guarantee of the Alaska Constitution." View "Knolmayer, et al. v. McCollum" 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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This case involved a medical-malpractice suit brought by Jalena and Brian Taylor against Jalena’s OB/GYN, Dr. Donielle Daigle, and her clinic, Premier Women’s Health, PLLC. In 2017, Jalena was admitted to Memorial Hospital of Gulfport in active labor preparing to give birth. After pushing for two and a half hours, the baby’s head became lodged in the mother’s pelvis, and it was determined that a caesarean section was necessary. Following delivery of the child, Jalena’s blood pressure dropped, and her pulse increased. The nurses worked to firm Jalena’s uterus post delivery, but she continued to have heavy clots and bleeding. Jalena was given a drug to tighten the uterus, and an OR team was called to be on standby in the event surgery became necessary. Dr. Daigle called the OR team off after Jalena’s bleeding was minimal, and her uterus remained completely firm. But Jalena’s heart rate remained extremely elevated. Dr. Daigle allowed Jalena to go back to her room, and she checked her again, and the uterus was firm. A minute or two later, Jalena sat up and felt a gush of blood. Dr. Daigle prepared to perform a hysterectomy, There was still bleeding from the cervical area, which doctors decided they needed to amputate. Even after doing so, there was still bleeding because of a laceration extending into the vagina. When the vagina was sutured and incorporated into the repair of the vaginal cuff, the bleeding finally stopped. The Taylors allege that Dr. Daigle failed to adequately treat Jalena and, as a result, she cannot have any more children. A five-day jury trial was held in January 2021, and the jury returned a twelve-to-zero verdict in favor of Dr. Daigle and Premier. On appeal, the Taylors argued the trial court committed reversible error by: (1) refusing to grant their cause challenges of patients of Dr. Daigle and Premier, thus failing to give them a right to a fair and impartial jury; and (2) failing to find a deviation from the standard of care for failing to perform a proper inspection of a genital tract laceration. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the jury verdict because it was reached on factual evidence in favor of Dr. Daigle and Premier by an impartial jury. "All twelve of the jurors agreed on the verdict, and the verdict was not against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. It should not be disturbed." View "Taylor v. Premier Women's Health, PLLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Jody arrived at the Indiana University Health emergency room with severe abdominal pain. Doctors determined she needed emergency surgery to remove a dying portion of her intestine. Because they believed (incorrectly) that the problem stemmed from earlier gastric bypass surgery, they transferred her to another facility to be operated on by the bariatric surgeon who had performed the bypass. Jody died two days later. Her husband sued, alleging that IU’s failure to operate on Jody violated its obligation under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act to “stabilize” Jody when it decided to transfer her without first performing the laparotomy and removing the ischemic portions of her intestine, 42 U.S.C. 1395dd(b)(1)(A).The Seventh Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of the suit. The Act authorizes pre-stabilization transfer where one of two triggering conditions is satisfied and the transfer is “appropriate.” No reasonable jury could conclude that IU did not satisfy both requirements. A physician certified that “[b]ased upon the information available to [him] at the time of transfer, … the medical benefits reasonably expected from the provision of appropriate medical treatment at another facility outweigh the increased risks to [Jody] … from undertaking the transfer.” The court cited the “Treatment Act’s narrow purpose as an anti-dumping law rather than a federal cause of action for medical malpractice.” View "Martindale v. Indiana University Health Bloomington, Inc." on Justia Law

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Lash, a 60-year-old, obese man with a remote history of smoking and high blood pressure, was traveling when he experienced shortness of breath and chest discomfort. He went to Sparta hospital. An EKG, blood work, and a chest x-ray revealed no signs of a previous heart attack, but his white blood cells and blood sugar were slightly elevated, suggesting a cardiac event. Dr. Panico identified mild congestive failure and an enlarged right hilum, a part of the lung. He recommended a CT scan to rule out a mass. Dr. Motwani, the main physician responsible for treating Lash, diagnosed an “anxiety reaction” and prescribed medications. Lash was not informed of his congestive heart failure nor that an enlarged right hilum could mean heart failure or cancer. One nurse mentioned only that Lash was seen for an “anxiety reaction.” The next evening, Lash went into cardiac arrest. He was taken to the emergency room, where he was pronounced dead.In a malpractice suit by Lash’s estate, the district court granted Sparta hospital summary judgment. Motwani settled the case and was dismissed from the lawsuit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. . The Illinois Tort Immunity Act provides that “a local public entity,” such as Sparta, is not liable for an employee’s negligent “diagnosis.” Lash never received any treatment, so no doctor could have failed to disclose information that might have changed his decisions. View "Lash v. Sparta Community Hospital" on Justia Law

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This case addressed the difference between two claims that arose from the same accident and that were based on the same medical care: a medical malpractice claim and a failure to secure informed consent claim. In 2017, Mari Davies was in a single-car rollover accident. When Davies arrived at the E.R. she had hypertension, high blood pressure, left shoulder pain, neck pain, chest pain, abdominal pain, a headache, and some tingling in her left arm. She also had preexisting kidney stones, diverticulosis, pneumonia, and diabetes. Dr. Michael Hirsig evaluated her as soon as she arrived in the E.R.: consulted with a neurosurgeon, ordered tests and prescribed medicines. Dr. Hirsig diagnosed Davies with a stable cervical spine fracture. He determined that she had no “neurological symptoms.” Davies visited her primary care provider the next day. While in his office, Davies exhibited stroke symptoms. She was immediately transported to the E.R. at Providence St. Peter Hospital. She had, indeed, suffered a stroke. It was later determined Davies’ stroke was caused by a vertebral artery dissection (VAD) that occurred at the time of the accident. A VAD is typically detected by a computed tomography angiography (CTA) scan. It was undisputed that the E.R. doctor who treated Davies when she first presented to the hospital, did not order a CTA scan. Davies filed suit against MultiCare Health System, the parent corporation of Good Samaritan Hospital, alleging (1) medical negligence, (2) failure to obtain informed consent, and (3) corporate negligence. On cross motions for partial summary judgment, the trial court dismissed Davies’ informed consent claim. The trial court found no material factual dispute related to the informed consent claim and dismissed it as unsupported by the law. Davies’ medical negligence claims proceeded to trial. The jury found that none of the health care provider defendants were negligent. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding facts in the record sufficient to support an informed consent claim. The Washington Supreme Court adhered to prior decisions holding that in general, a patient cannot bring an informed consent claim where, as here, the physician ruled out the undiagnosed condition entirely. View "Davies v. MultiCare Health Sys." on Justia Law

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Defendant-petitioner Lisa Mestas petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to vacate its order denying her motion for a summary judgment in this wrongful-death/medical-negligence action brought by David Lee Autrey, as the personal representative of the estate of his wife, Bridgette Ann Moore, and to enter a summary judgment in Mestas's favor on the basis of State-agent immunity. In May 2017, Autrey's wife, Moore, went to the University of South Alabama Medical Center to undergo a surgery required by the prior amputation of her right leg. The surgery was performed without incident, and Moore was transferred to a hospital room for recovery. At approximately 9:30 p.m. that night, nurses found Moore unresponsive. Attempts to revive her were unsuccessful, and Moore was pronounced deceased. It was later determined that Moore died as a result of opioid-induced respiratory depression ("OIRD"). Mestas argued that, at all times relevant to Autrey's lawsuit, she was an employee of the University of South Alabama ("USA") and served as the Chief Nursing Officer ("CNO") for USA Health System, which included USA Medical Center, various clinics, and a children's hospital. According to Mestas, as the CNO, her primary responsibilities were administrative in nature and she had not provided any direct patient care since 2010. Mestas argued that because Autrey's claims against her arose from the line and scope of her employment with a State agency,2 and because she did not treat Moore, she was entitled to, among other things, State-agent immunity. The Supreme Court concluded Mestas demonstrated she was entitled to state-agent immunity, and that she had a clear right to the relief sought. The Court therefore granted her petition and issued the writ, directing the trial court to grant her summary judgment. View "Ex parte Lisa Mestas." on Justia Law

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In 2019 a woman sued her former husband’s medical provider, alleging that from 2003 to 2010 the provider negligently prescribed the husband opioid medications, leading to his addiction, damage to the couple’s business and marital estate, the couple’s divorce in 2011, and ultimately the husband's death in 2017. The superior court ruled the claims were barred by the statute of limitations and rejected the woman’s argument that the provider should have been estopped from relying on a limitations defense. Because the undisputed evidence shows that by 2010 the woman had knowledge of her alleged injuries, the provider’s alleged role in causing those injuries, and the provider’s alleged negligence, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that the claims accrued at that time and were no longer timely when filed in 2019. And because the record did not show that the woman’s failure to timely file her claims stemmed from reasonable reliance on fraudulent conduct by the provider, the Supreme Court concluded that equitable estoppel did not apply. View "Park v. Spayd" on Justia Law

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On November 21, 2017, Richard Bush presented to Saint Bernard Parish Hospital for depression and suicidal ideations. At the hospital, Dr. Miguel Aguilera treated and discharged him. Bush attempted re-admittance with the same complaints, but was refused re-admittance. Thereafter, Bush attempted suicide in the hospital bathroom. He was found alive and transported to University Hospital in New Orleans for treatment; however, he succumbed to his injuries from the suicide attempt and died on November 30, 2017. In November 2018, his wife, Patricia Bush, on behalf of herself, her daughters, Madalyn and Ashley Bush, and on behalf of the decedent, Richard Bush, filed a formal pro se complaint with the Patient Compensation Fund (“PCF”) to convene a medical review panel (“MRP”), naming Saint Bernard Parish Hospital and Dr. Aguilera for malpractice relating to Richard Bush's death. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted this writ application in order to determine: (1) whether contra non valentem interrupted prescription; and (2) whether the court of appeal erred in relying on documents that were not entered as evidence and were not part of the record. The Court found that, while contra non valentem may interrupt prescription in a wrongful death claim in certain instances, it did not interrupt prescription in this case due to the fact that the court of appeal incorrectly considered documents that were not in evidence. The Court reversed the court of appeal’s ruling in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Medical Review Panel for the Claim of Richard Bush" on Justia Law

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Dr. Paulus was prosecuted for healthcare fraud. Government consultants reviewed 496 of Paulus’s procedures and concluded that 146 (about 30%) were unnecessary. King’s Daughters Medical Center (KDMC) consultants also reviewed a random selection of Paulus’ procedures. Three experts at trial concluded that Paulus overstated his patients’ arterial blockage and inserted medically unnecessary stents. A jury convicted Paulus. After remand, before sentencing, the government disclosed to Paulus for the first time the “Shields Letter,” stating that when KDMC faced previous legal trouble, it hired independent experts to review 1,049 of Paulus’s cases; they flagged about 7% of his procedures as unnecessary. The defense viewed this evidence as exculpatory and consistent with diagnostic differences of opinion. Before trial, the district court had held that the information was inadmissible and that the parties “[we]re not to disclose” any information about the KDMC Review to Paulus.The Sixth Circuit vacated Paulus’s convictions and remanded, finding that the Shields Letter was material to Paulus’s defense and that failure to disclose it violated Paulus’s “Brady” rights. On remand, the government subpoenaed KDMC for additional information regarding the study referenced in the Shields Letter. KDMC objected, citing the attorney-client, work-product, and settlement privileges. The government filed a motion to compel, which was granted. KDMC sought a writ of mandamus. The Sixth Circuit denied KDMC’s petition. KDMC’s disclosure of some information regarding its experts’ study waived its privilege over the related, undisclosed information now being sought. View "In re: King's Daughters Health System, Inc." on Justia Law