Justia Medical Malpractice Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether the “McHaffie Rule” applied even where the plaintiff chooses not to assert vicarious liability for an employee’s negligence and, instead, asserts only direct negligence claims against the employer. Here, Erica Murphy Brown and Steven Brown (collectively, “Brown”) sued Denver Center for Birth and Wellness (“DCBW”) for negligence and negligent hiring. Brown also sued Shari Long Romero, a DCBW employee and certified nurse-midwife, for wrongful death. The suit arose from the death of Brown’s child during labor at DCBW. After acknowledging vicarious liability for Long Romero’s negligence - by admitting, in its Answer, that Long Romero’s alleged acts and omissions occurred within the course and scope of her employment - DCBW moved for partial judgment on the pleadings under C.R.C.P. 12(c) on Brown’s negligent hiring claim. The trial court, citing the McHaffie Rule, granted DCBW’s motion and dismissed Brown’s negligent hiring claim—even though Brown had chosen not to assert vicarious liability for Long Romero’s negligence. The Supreme Court held that a plaintiff’s direct negligence claims against an employer are not barred where the plaintiff does not assert vicarious liability for an employee’s negligence. Thus, the trial court erred in granting DCBW’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings and dismissing Brown’s negligent hiring claim. The Court vacated the trial court's grant of partial judgment on the pleadings, and remanded with directions to reinstate Brown's negligent hiring claim. View "Brown v. Long Romero" on Justia Law

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Hawkins, a Navy veteran, suffered a mental breakdown at work. She was escorted from her workplace in handcuffs and hospitalized for observation. She sought follow-up psychiatric care at a VA hospital. According to Hawkins, the VA doctors who treated her negligently failed to prescribe medication to address severe insomnia and anxiety, despite her complaints that the antidepressant she had been prescribed was not helping. Hawkins suffered another psychotic break during which she attacked and seriously wounded her mother. Hawkins spent a year in jail, lost her job as an RN, and has been unable to return to work.Hawkins sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), alleging medical malpractice. Hawkins claimed that her mental breakdown, which prompted her to seek medical care, was caused by years of workplace bullying and harassment by her supervisor. The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. The Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, 5 U.S.C. 8101(1), bars a suit against the government for damages under any other law, including the FTCA. Before filing this action, Hawkins pursued a claim under FECA; the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs determined that the alleged workplace bullying and harassment did not occur. If the OWCP had determined that the injury for which Hawkins sought medical care was sustained during the course of her employment, her FTCA action would have been barred. View "Hawkins v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff worked as an anesthesiologist at the hospital, beginning in 1991. In 2011, the California Department of Public Health conducted an unannounced “medication error reduction plan” survey at the hospital, found that Plaintiff was responsible for numerous deficiencies regarding the use of the drug droperidol and that the deficiencies “placed patients at risk for undue adverse medical consequences,” and declared that the hospital was in “immediate jeopardy.” The medical group that is responsible for providing the hospital with physicians agreed to remove Plaintiff from the anesthesia schedule pending further investigation. Plaintiff went through required remediation, returned to work, and continued to improperly use the drug. The practice group terminated his “staff privileges, membership, or employment” with the hospital “based on a medical disciplinary cause or reason” without giving prior notice and a hearing under Business and Professions Code section 809. The trial court awarded Plaintiff damages. The court of appeal affirmed. A hospital may not avoid its obligation to provide notice and a hearing before terminating a doctor’s ability to practice in the hospital for jeopardizing the quality of patient care, by directing the medical group employing the doctor to refuse to assign the doctor to the hospital View "Economy v. Sutter East Bay Hospitals" on Justia Law

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The Board of Directors (the Board) of Bear Valley Community Hospital (Bear Valley) refused to promote Dr. Robert O. Powell from provisional to active staff membership and reappointment to Bear Valley's medical staff. Dr. Powell appealed the superior court judgment denying his petition for writ of mandate to void the Board's decision and for reinstatement of his medical staff privileges. Dr. Powell practiced medicine in both Texas and California as a general surgeon. In 2000, the medical executive committee of Brownwood Regional Medical Center (Brownwood), in Texas, found that Dr. Powell failed to advise a young boy's parents that he severed the boy's vas deferens during a hernia procedure or of the ensuing implications. Further, the committee found that Dr. Powell falsely represented to Brownwood's medical staff, on at least two occasions, that he fully disclosed the circumstances to the parents, behavior which the committee considered to be dishonest, obstructive, and which prevented appropriate follow-up care. Based on the committee's findings, Brownwood terminated Dr. Powell's staff membership and clinical privileges. In subsequent years, Dr. Powell obtained staff privileges at other medical facilities. In October 2011, Dr. Powell applied for appointment to the medical staff at Bear Valley. On his initial application form, Dr. Powell was given an opportunity to disclose whether his clinical privileges had ever been revoked by any medical facility. In administrative hearings generated by the Bear Valley Board’s decision, there was a revelation that Dr. Powell had not been completely forthcoming about the Brownwood termination, and alleged the doctor mislead the judicial review committee (“JRC”) about the circumstances leading to that termination. Under Bear Valley's bylaws, Dr. Powell had the right to an administrative appeal of the JRC's decision; he chose, however, to bypass an administrative appeal and directly petition the superior court for a writ of mandamus. In superior court, Dr. Powell filed a petition for writ of mandate under Code of Civil Procedure sections 1094.5 and 1094.6, seeking to void the JRC's/Board's decision and to have his medical privileges reinstated. The trial court denied the petition, and this appeal followed. On appeal of the superior court’s denial, Dr. Powell argued he was entitled to a hearing before the lapse of his provisional staff privileges: that the Board surreptitiously terminated his staff privileges, presumably for a medical disciplinary cause, by allowing his privileges to lapse and failing to act. The Court of Appeal determined the Bear Valley Board had little to no insight into the true circumstances of Dr. Powell’s termination at Brownwood or the extent of his misrepresentations, thus the Board properly exercised independent judgment based on the information presented. In summary, the Court of Appeal concluded Bear Valley provided Dr. Powell a fair procedure in denying his request for active staff privileges and reappointment to the medical staff. View "Powell v. Bear Valley Community Hospital" on Justia Law

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Carle’s medical residency program, which has an employment component, was governed by annual contracts. Residents were required to complete rotations before advancing and to pass the Step 3 U.S. Medical Licensing Examination before entering the third year. A third Step 3 failure results in termination. Carle residents cannot graduate unless they complete licensing requirements. Illinois medical students with five failures in the Step tests are not eligible for licensure without significant remediation. Rodrigo failed his first attempts at Step 1 and Step 2. He was required to repeat four rotations. His supervisors thought a neuropsychological examination might identify issues affecting his performance. Rodrigo never underwent recommended testing. Carle extended Rodrigo’s first and second years to allow him to repeat rotations and the Step 3 test, which he failed a second time. Rodrigo then informed Carle that he had a sleep disorder. Although Rodrigo did not request an accommodation, the director suggested that he take time off. Rodrigo did so, but failed a third time. Rodrigo asked to be promoted so that he could attempt to pass Step 3 in California. After termination of his residency, Rodrigo sued under the Americans With Disabilities Act. 42 U.S.C. 1210. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Carle, finding that Rodrigo was not a “qualified individual.” Passing Step 3 is an “essential function.” Rodrigo presented no evidence of a causal connection between his protected activity (seeking an accommodation) and his termination. View "Rodrigo v. Carle Foundation Hospital" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs James Jarrell and his wife filed a complaint against Dr. Kaul and the Market Street Surgical Center (MSSC). On summary judgment, the court found that there was no cause of action against Dr. Kaul for deceit, misrepresentation, lack of informed consent, or battery based on his failure to maintain insurance. The trial court also dismissed plaintiffs’ claims against MSSC because they lacked an expert who would testify that MSSC deviated from accepted standards of medical care by failing to properly ascertain Dr. Kaul’s credentials and by permitting an uninsured physician to perform spinal procedures in its facility. Trial proceeded against Dr. Kaul limited to the issue of medical negligence, and the jury found that Dr. Kaul negligently performed the spinal fusion, which proximately caused James Jarrell’s injury. Dr. Kaul appealed and plaintiffs cross-appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed the summary judgment orders, the jury verdict, and the damages award. The panel held that the trial court properly dismissed all claims against Dr. Kaul based on his lack of insurance because N.J.S.A.45:9-19.17 did not provide a private cause of action for injured parties. For the same reasons, the panel concluded that N.J.S.A.45:19-17(b), did not permit a direct action by a patient against a surgical center that permitted an uninsured or underinsured physician to use its facilities. The Supreme Court denied Dr. Kaul’s petition for certification, but granted plaintiffs cross-petition. Although it was undisputed that Dr. Kaul was uninsured for the procedure he performed on Jarrell, the Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of Jarrell’s direct claim against the physician for his failure to maintain insurance. The statute imposing the medical malpractice liability insurance requirement did not expressly authorize a direct action against a noncompliant physician and neither the language nor the purpose of the statute supported such a claim. Although a reasonably prudent patient may consider a physician’s compliance with the statutorily imposed liability insurance requirement material information, lack of compliance or failure to disclose compliance does not necessarily provide the predicate for an informed consent claim. The Court reversed and remanded plaintiffs’ claim against MSSC, holding that a cause of action for negligent hiring could be asserted against a facility that granted privileges to physicians for its continuing duty to ensure that those physicians had and maintained the required medical malpractice liability insurance or have posted a suitable letter of credit that conformed with the statutory requirement. View "Jarrell v. Kaul" 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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AEG hired Dr. Murray as entertainer Michael Jackson’s personal physician for a concert tour. Michael died of acute propofol intoxication while under Murray’s care. Katherine Jackson, on behalf of herself and as guardian of Michael’s children, Michael Jr., Paris-Michael and Prince Michael, filed suit for negligence hiring, retention, and supervision. The jury found that Murray was not unfit or incompetent to perform the work for which he was hired. The court of appeal affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in summarily adjudicating negligence because AEG did not owe Michael a duty to refrain from exerting pressure over Murray; AEG did not undertake to provide protective services to Michael; and AEG owed Michael no duty arising out of the contract with Murray. The court also did not err in summarily adjudicating respondeat superior because the undisputed facts establish that Murray was an independent contractor as a matter of law; AEG is not liable under the peculiar risk doctrine as an independent contractor; and Murray was not an agent of AEG. The trial court did not err in instructing the jurors with a modified jury instruction along with the special verdict form; the special verdict was legally sufficient. View "Jackson v. AEG Live, LLC" on Justia Law

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After Plaintiff's surgeon, Dr. Krouse, performed wrist surgery on Plaintiff's left wrist, Plaintiff visited another orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Curd, complaining of continuing pain. Dr. Curd concluded that another surgery was necessary to remove the metal plate and screws implanted by Dr. Krouse. After the surgery was performed, Plaintiff brought suit for medical malpractice against Dr. Krouse and the hospital in which she was treated during her first surgery. A jury returned a verdict for Dr. Krouse. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in (1) excluding another doctor's previously undisclosed opinion that Dr. Krouse breached the standard of care; and (2) rejecting Plaintiff's proposed jury instruction on res ipsa loquitor. View "Thompson v. Avera Queen of Peace Hosp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff gave birth to Child at Hospital. Complications arose prior to and after Child's delivery, leading to problems with Child's brain development. Plaintiff, individually and on behalf of Child, later sued the doctor who delivered Child and Hospital. Plaintiff subsequently settled her claims with the doctor. The district court granted summary judgment to Hospital on all of Plaintiff's claims. This appeal arose out of pre-trial rulings made by the district court in Plaintiff's litigation with Hospital. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in (1) extending discovery deadlines; (2) granting summary judgment to Hospital on Plaintiff's agency claims; (3) granting summary judgment to Hospital on Plaintiff's Consumer Protection Act Claim; (4) granting summary judgment to Hospital on Plaintiff's joint venture claim; and (5) granting summary judgment to Hospital on Plaintiff's negligent credentialing claim. View "Brookins v. Mote" on Justia Law