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 affirming the trial court's denial of Harnett Health Systems, Inc.'s motion to dismiss this medical malpractice complaint for failure to comply with Rule 9(j) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, holding that there was no error.Plaintiff filed a medical malpractice complaint as the administrator of her husband's estate, alleging that Harnett Health violated the standard of care applicable to her husband at the time he was treated for renal failure. Plaintiff identified as an expert witness Dr. Gary Harris. Harnett Health moved to disqualify and exclude Dr. Harris on the grounds that he did not qualify as a standard of care expert under N.C. R. Evid. 702. The trial court granted the motion and then entered summary judgment in favor of Harnett Health. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) there was sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that Plaintiff reasonably believed her Rule 9(j) expert witness was willing to testify that Harnett Health violated the standard of care in the ways alleged in her complaint; and (2) the court of appeals utilized the correct standard of review in examining the trial court's grant of Harnett Health's motion to exclude another witness. View "Miller v. Carolina Coast Emergency Physicians, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the opinion rendered by the court of appeals affirming the trial court's judgment entered upon the jury's verdict in favor of Defendants in this medical malpractice case, holding that it is appropriate to overrule Byrd v. Marion General Hospital, 202 N.C. 337 (1932), as it is applied to the facts of this case.During the preparation of an "ablation procedure" on three-year-old Amaya Gullatte's heart and shortly after she was induced with the anesthetic sevorflurance Amaya went into cardiac arrest, resulting in the onset of permanent brain damage, cerebral palsy, and profound developmental delay. During trial, the court excluded evidence offered by Plaintiffs intended to show that Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Gus Vansoestbergen breached the professional duty of care governing his participation in the preparation and administration of the course of anesthesia. The ruling was dictated by the application of the principle set forth in Byrd establishing that nurses categorically do not owe a duty of care under the circumstances of this case. The jury rendered a verdict in favor of Defendants. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's exclusion of Plaintiffs' expert testimony, holding that it is appropriate to overrule Byrd as it is applied to the facts of this case. View "Connette v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the order of the trial court dismissing Plaintiff's claims with prejudice and remanding the case to the trial court to give the parties an opportunity to gather and present evidence on a motion for summary judgment, holding that the trial court was not required to convert the motion to dismiss under N.C. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) to a motion for summary judgment.Plaintiff brought this action after being diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer, arguing that Defendant swere negligent in failing to diagnose Plaintiff with cancer. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), arguing that the action was barred by the three-year statute of limitations and four-year statute of repose in N.C. Gen. Stat. 1-15(c). The trial court dismissed the claims with prejudice. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the trial court should have converted the motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals erred by ruling that the trial court considered matters outside the pleading, thus converting the motion to a motion for summary judgment. View "Blue v. Bhiro" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's decision to grant summary judgment to Defendant in this medical malpractice action, holding that the trial court properly granted summary judgment to Defendant.Plaintiff went to the hospital complaining of slurred speech and numbness in her left arm. Defendant contacted Plaintiff's primary care physician and erroneously communicated that Plaintiff had no neurological deficits. Plaintiffs symptoms continued until she was admitted. Plaintiff alleged, among other things, that Defendant's negligence diminished her likelihood of full recovery, thus proximately causing her injury. At issue was whether Plaintiff's "loss of chance" at a better outcome following her stroke was a separate type of injury for which Plaintiff could recover in a medical malpractice action. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts' decisions granting summary judgment for Defendant, holding that losing the chance for an increased opportunity for an improved outcome is not a cognizable and compensable claim in North Carolina. View "Parkes v. Hermann" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court modified and affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals holding that Plaintiff failed properly to plead administrative negligence under N.C. Gen. Stat. 90-21.11(2)(b), holding that the trial court did not err by denying Defendant's motion for a directed verdict on pain and suffering damages.Plaintiff failed a complaint for medical negligence against Defendant, and the case proceeded to trial. At the close of Plaintiff's evidence, Defendant moved for a directed verdict. The trial court denied the motion. The jury returned verdicts finding that the decedent's death was caused by Defendant's negligence and negligent performance of administrative duties. The court of appeals reversed in part, vacated in part, and granting a new trial in part, holding (1) there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's award for pain and suffering, and (2) Plaintiff did not sufficiently plead administrative negligence. The Supreme Court held (1) the trial court properly denied Defendant's motion for a directed verdict on pain and suffering damages; (2) Plaintiff was not required to plead a claim for administrative negligence separate from medical negligence; (3) Defendant was not entitled to a new trial; and (4) the trial court did not err by granting Plaintiff's motion for a directed verdict on contributory negligence. View "Estate of Savino v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority" on Justia Law

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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