Justia Medical Malpractice Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Carolina Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals concluding that an internist proffered by Plaintiff to provide standard of care expert testimony against three hospitalists was properly qualified under N.C. R. Evid. 702(b) and that the evidence was sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact that the hospitalists proximately caused Plaintiff's injury.Plaintiff brought this medical malpractice action seeking recovery for the decedent's injury and death. The only claims remaining arose from the hospitalists' alleged medical negligence. During discovery, Plaintiff provided the deposition of Dr. Paul Genecin as expert testimony on the standard of care. The trial court concluded that Dr. Genecin did not qualify as an expert and, because Dr. Genecin was Plaintiff's only standard of care expert, granted summary judgment for Defendant. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Dr. Genecin was competent to testify. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Dr. Genecin was qualified to testify to the standard of care, and his testimony sufficiently forecasted proximate cause; and (2) Plaintiff presented sufficient evidence of proximate cause, and therefore, summary judgment was inappropriate. View "Da Silva v. WakeMed" on Justia Law

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In this medical malpractice action, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's order granting Defendant's motion to dismiss on the basis that Plaintiff's complaint failed to comply with N.C. R. Civ. P. 9(j), holding that the court of appeals erred in concluding that Plaintiff's expert witness was unwilling to testify that Defendant did not comply with the applicable standard of care.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) both the trial court and the court of appeals erred in failing to view the evidence regarding the expert witness's willingness to testify under Rule 9(j) in the light most favorable to Plaintiff; (2) in its de novo review, the court of appeals erred by deferring entirely to the findings of the trial court; and (3) the complaint should not be dismissed on Rule 9(j) grounds because the factual record demonstrated that the expert witness was willing to testify at the time of the filing of the complaint that Defendant breached the standard of care. View "Preston v. Movahed" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals concluding that Rule 9(j) does not permit a plaintiff to amend a timely filed medical malpractice complaint to cure a defective Rule 9(j) certification after the statute of limitations has run when the expert review required by Rule 9(j) occurred before the filing of the original complaint, holding that the procedures Plaintiff followed in this case were consistent with the letter and spirit of the rule.Plaintiff filed this medical malpractice complaint, but Plaintiff’s Rule 9(j) certification inadvertently used the language of a prior version of Rule 9(j). Defendants then filed a motion to dismiss. In response, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint to cure her defective Rule 9(j) certification. The trial court denied Plaintiff’s motion and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that where Plaintiff did not file the complaint with the proper Rule 9(j) certification before the running of the statute of limitation, the complaint could not have been deemed to have commenced within the statute. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Plaintiff should be permitted to amend her medical malpractice complaint to correct a purely technical pleading error under the circumstances of this case. View "Vaughan v. Mashburn" on Justia Law

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The trial court’s appointment of a guardian ad litem (GAL) on behalf of a minor removes that minor’s disability of minority and starts the running of the statute of limitations. Therefore, the failure of a court-appointed GAL to pursue the minor’s claim within the statute of limitations bars the claim.In the instant case, a minor plaintiff, by and through a court-appointed GAL, filed an action against defendant-health providers, alleging that Defendants’ medical negligence led to Plaintiff’s brain injury. The trial court dismissed the claims as time barred. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the plain language of N.C. Gen. Stat. 1-17(b) tolled the limitations period until Plaintiff reached the age of nineteen. The court of appeals agreed and reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the appointment of the GAL removed Plaintiff’s disability of minority, which eliminated the tolling and started the running of the applicable three-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims. View "King v. Albemarle Hospital Authority" on Justia Law

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Robert King signed an arbitration agreement at the time of his initial appointment with Dr. Michael Bryant, who was to perform a bilateral inguinal hernia repair on King. In the course of the surgery, Bryant injured King’s distal abdominal aorta, resulting in complications. King and his wife, Jo Ann O’Neal (together, Plaintiffs) filed a complaint against Bryant and Village Surgical Associations, P.A. (collectively, Defendants). Defendants filed a motion to stay and enforce the arbitration agreement. The trial court denied Defendants’ motion to enforce the arbitration agreement, concluding that the agreement was too indefinite to be enforced. The court of appeals reversed. On remand, the trial court again declined to enforce the arbitration agreement, concluding that it was the product of constructive fraud and was unconscionable and, therefore, was unenforceable. The court of appeals affirmed on unconscionability grounds. The Supreme Court affirmed as modified, holding that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable on breach of fiduciary duty, as opposed to unconscionability, grounds. View "King v. Bryant" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, as guardian ad litem for Jakari Baize, filed a complaint against Defendants, healthcare providers, alleging negligence in failing properly to treat Jakari for a severe case of jaundice that left him permanently disabled. After discovery had been conducted and certain expert witnesses had been deposed, Plaintiff dismissed all claims against all defendants without prejudice. The trial court granted Defendants’ motion for an award of expert witness fees for the actual time that the experts Plaintiffs had designated spent testifying during their respective depositions as costs under N.C. Gen. Stat. 7A-305. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the trial court erred by awarding the expert witness fees as costs because Defendants were statutorily required to subpoena the expert witnesses as a prerequisite for obtaining such relief. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the General Assembly eliminated the traditional subpoena requirement associated with the taxing of certain expert witness fees as costs in civil actions; and (2) therefore, the trial court correctly taxed expert witness fees in accordance with section 7A-305(d)(11) against Plaintiff. View "Lassiter v. N.C. Baptist Hosps., Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Penny Cummings filed a medical malpractice action against Defendants, a doctor and a health care facility. The trial court entered judgment for Defendants after a jury found that Defendants were not liable for Plaintiff's injuries. Based on two affidavits submitted by jurors after the trial alleging juror misconduct, Plaintiff filed a motion to set aside the verdict and grant a new trial. The trial court granted Plaintiff's motion. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's order setting aside the verdict and awarding a new trial. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court erred by considering the evidence of alleged juror misconduct in the form of the two affidavits because the affidavits were inadmissible pursuant to N.C. R. Evid. 606(b), which reflects the common law rule that affidavits of jurors are inadmissible for the purposes of impeaching the verdict except as they pertain to extraneous influences that may have affected the jury's decision. View "Cummings v. Ortega" on Justia Law