Articles Posted in Pennsylvania Supreme Court

by
The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether a pathologist was competent to testify as an expert witness regarding the standard of care in a medical malpractice action asserted against a board-certified general surgeon. Decedent Mildred Anderson sought treatment from surgeon Gary McAfoos, M.D. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Anderson took a turn for the worse and died from sepsis in response to surgery ultimately conducted by Dr. McAfoos and his practice partners. Mrs. Anderson's estate sued, and at trial proferred the testimony of a pathologist, who asserted that Dr. McAfoos and his agents' acts fell below ordinary standards of care by allowing Mrs. Anderson's discharge from the hospital despite certain indicators that she was suffering from a serious infection (that ultimately lead to her death). The doctor objected to Mrs. Anderson's use of the pathologist as an expert, arguing he was incompetent to assess the standard of care on a doctor who sees patients, "[h]e can't possibly second guess care and treatment on a patient when he doesn't see patients." The trial court sustained the objection to the expert's testimony; subsequently the doctor moved for nonsuit which was granted. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Mrs. Anderson did not properly preserve her claim that the expert's credentials satisfied the requirements of the state competency statute, and accordingly, could not advance her contention that he should have been allowed to render standard-of-care testimony against a board-certified surgeon. View "Anderson v. McAfoos, et al" on Justia Law

by
This appeal arose from a medical malpractice action brought by Appellant Thomas Bruckshaw as Administrator of the Estate of Patricia Bruckshaw (Decedent) and in his own right, against Appellees Frankford Hospital of Philadelphia (Frankford Hospital), Jefferson Health System, Inc., Brian P. Priest, M.D., and Randy Metcalf, M.D. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether a court was empowered to remove a principal juror without any reason and without any notice to the parties, and replace her with the last possible alternate, without notice, after all evidence was submitted and the jury had already retired to deliberate. Upon review, the Court concluded that the removal of a juror can only be done by a trial court, on the record, with notice to the parties, for cause. Furthermore, the Court concluded that the trial court committed reversible error for which the aggrieved party was not required to demonstrate prejudice. View "Bruckshaw v. Frankford Hospital" on Justia Law

by
The issue on appeal in this case was one of first impression: whether a medical general practitioner who provides incidental mental health treatment to a patient, with whom he then engages in a sexual affair, may be held to a particularized "specialist duty," applicable to mental health professionals, that prohibits consensual sexual contact with patients, such that the defendant general practitioner may be subject to medical malpractice liability in tort. Upon review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court declined to impose such a duty as a matter of Pennsylvania common law. Accordingly, the Court vacated the Superior Court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings on any preserved issues remain that were not addressed as a result of the Superior Court's disposition. View "Thierfelder v. Wolfert" on Justia Law

by
Appellants sought a new trial in this medical battery/lack-of-consent case on the ground that the trial court erroneously instructed the jury on the technical elements of battery, particularly the intent to cause a harmful or offensive contact. They further maintained that the charge was erroneous because it instructed the jury that Appellants-Plaintiffs were required to prove that the surgeon who performed the allegedly unauthorized operation did so with the intent to harm. Viewing the jury charge in its entirety, the Supreme Court concluded that it clearly and accurately set forth the law. Contrary to Appellants' contentions, the jury charge did not require proof that the surgeon performed the operation with the intent to harm. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the order of the Superior Court, which affirmed the trial court's entry of judgment on the verdict in favor of Appellees. View "Cooper v. Lankenau Hospital, et al" on Justia Law

by
At issue in this direct appeal to the Supreme Court was a statutory prerequisite to the obligation of the Insurance Department to defend certain medical professional liability actions asserted against health care providers, and to the requirement for payment of claims asserted in such actions from the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund. Specifically, resolution of the appeal turned on when, under the governing statute, a "claim" is "made" outside a specified four-year time period. On June 4, 2007, Joanna Ziv filed a praecipe for a writ of summons naming Appellant Phillip Yussen, M.D. and other medical providers as defendants. A complaint was filed on August 2, 2007, alleging medical negligence last occurring on July 7, 2003. Appellant’s primary insurer, Pennsylvania Healthcare Providers Insurance Exchange, requested that the claim be accorded Section 715 status by the Insurance Department. The Department denied such request, however, on the basis that the claim had been made less than four years after the alleged malpractice. Appellant initially challenged this determination in the administrative setting, and a hearing ensued. Before the examiner, Appellant argued that, consistent with the policy definition of a "claim," the date on which a claim is made for purposes of Section 715 cannot precede the date on which notice is provided to the insured. Appellee, on the other hand, contended that a claim is made when it is first asserted, instituted, or comes into existence - including upon the tender of a demand or the commencement of a legal action - and that notice to the insured or insurer is not a necessary prerequisite. In this regard, Appellee Medical Care Availability & Reduction of Error Fund highlighted that Section 715 does require "notice" of the claim to trigger the provider's obligation to report the claim to the Fund within 180 days, but the statute does not contain such an express notice component in delineating the four-year requirement. The Commonwealth Court sustained exceptions to the hearing examiner's recommendation lodged by Appellee and entered judgment in its favor. In its review, the Supreme Court found "claim" and "made" as used in Section 715 ambiguous. The Court determined that for purposes of Section 715, the mere filing of a praecipe for a writ of summons does not suffice to make a claim, at least in absence of some notice or demand communicated to those from whom damages are sought. The Court remanded the case for entry of judgment in Appellant's favor. View "Yussen v. Med. Care Availability & Reduction of Error Fund" on Justia Law