Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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Plaintiffs, the parents of a newborn baby, alleged that on June 12, 2012, their son died as a result of the medical malpractice of the Hospital defendants and the Baker defendants (Richard Baker, M.D. and Mary Beerworth, M.D.). It was undisputed that this filing was within the period established by the applicable statute of limitations. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on the denial of motions to dismiss filed by the Hospital defendants and the Baker defendants. Both sets’ motions were predicated on plaintiffs’ failure to timely serve process. On appeal, the Baker defendants argued that the trial court’s grant of an enlargement of time to serve process expired prior to plaintiffs’ serving of the summons and complaint, while the Hospital defendants contended that although they signed a waiver of service, plaintiffs failed to file that waiver with the court before the expiration of the service period. Both sets of defendants also appealed the trial court’s conclusion that even if plaintiffs’ service was found to be untimely, it retained the authority to retroactively grant a motion for enlargement of time and extend the period for service after the running of the statute of limitations on the basis of excusable neglect. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Clark v. Baker" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Dow Tillson underwent an elective procedure to remove a cataract in his left eye. Defendant Dr. Richard Lane, M.D., performed the procedure at Springfield Hospital. Plaintiffs alleged in their amended complaint that within twenty-four hours of surgery, Mr. Tillson’s left eye showed signs of infection. Dr. Lane made a presumptive diagnosis of endopthalmitis, but did not refer Mr. Tillson to a retinologist for treatment. Within forty-eight hours of surgery, Mr. Tillson was permanently blind in his left eye. Plaintiff sued for medical malpractice, and defendants the doctor and hospital, moved for summary judgment. Plaintiffs appealed the superior court’s decision to grant defendants’ motion. Upon review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court concluded that deposition testimony of plaintiff’s expert witness was sufficient to withstand a motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Tillson v. Lane" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a jury verdict rendered in favor of Rutland Hospital, Inc., d/b/a Rutland Regional Medical Center, and related entities (“RRMC”) and Dr. Santiago Cancio-Bello arising from injuries due to claimed medical malpractice in connection with the birth of Amy and Robert Labates’ daughter in 2007. Following the return of the jury verdict in favor of RRMC and Cancio-Bello, the Labates moved for a new trial on several different grounds, many of which concerned alleged juror misconduct, including a claim that a juror read an e-mail sent by RRMC to its employees during the trial and therefore tainted the verdict. The trial court denied the motion without a hearing and this appeal followed. The only issue before the Supreme Court centered on that e-mail. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Labate v. Rutland Hospital, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Gilbert and Shelagh McCormack appealed a superior court's denial of their motion for a new trial on the grounds of alleged juror bias. The issues on appeal to the Supreme Court were: (1) whether plaintiffs' motion was timely; (2) whether the trial court erred in denying the motion under "In re Nash," (614 A.2d 367 (1991)); and (3) whether the trial court erred in denying the motion under "implied bias." Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court. View "McCormack v. Rutland Hospital, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this medical malpractice action, plaintiff appealed the trial court's entry of judgment in defendants' favor following the court's discovery sanction, which precluded plaintiff from offering expert testimony or evidence regarding defendants' negligence due to plaintiff's repeated failure to adequately reply to interrogatories. On appeal, plaintiff argued that the discovery response was sufficient and the court abused its discretion in concluding that more detailed factual information was required. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the sanctions were within the trial court's power and were not "untenable" or "unreasonable," and that the sanctions precluded plaintiff from offering certain evidence "but was not a dismissal." As such, no special findings were required. The Court affirmed the trial court's decision. View "Stella v. Spaulding" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case centered on whether a physician could be held answerable as a matter of professional discipline solely on the basis of a physicians assistant’s (PA) unprofessional acts. The Board of Medical Practice concluded that it was not required to find Dr. Jon Porter guilty of unprofessional conduct based solely on the acts of a PA whom he supervised. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that state law did not make supervising physicians answerable as a matter of professional discipline solely for the unprofessional acts of PAs they supervise because the applicable statute does not pertain to professional responsibility. Furthermore, state law provides no basis for disciplining a supervising physician whose PA has committed an unprofessional act where the supervising physician has met or exceeded all standards of care. View "In re Jon Porter, M.D." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Sally J. Taylor sued Fletcher Allen Health Care (FAHC) for medical negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress in connection with her medical care following a surgery performed on her lumbar spine. After plaintiff failed to disclose any expert witness in response to discovery requests, FAHC moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff’s claims failed as a matter of law without an expert witness. The trial court granted FAHC’s motion. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that this case was sufficiently complex that plaintiff could not prove her claims without expert testimony. Accordingly, the Court affirmed. View "Taylor v. Fletcher Allen Health Care" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the trial court's dismissal of his medical malpractice action for failing to satisfy the applicable statute of limitations. Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Allan Eisemann, M.D., practicing through a medical practice which bore his name, negligently failed to advise Plaintiff or his dentist of the known risks associated with a tooth extraction while Plaintiff was taking intervenous doses of a medication called "Zometa," prescribed for multiple myleoma. Defendant allegedly approved the procedure; Plaintiff's dentist pulled the tooth. Following the procedure, Plaintiff developed osteonecrosis of the jaw. All parties agreed that the statute of limitations period for Plaintiff's malpractice claims would expire October 9, 2009. By a letter dated in September, Plaintiff's counsel proposed to Dr. Eisemann's counsel and other potential defendants a "time out" agreement to toll the statute of limitations for ninety days so that the parties could pursue settlement. Although Dr. Eisemann signed off on the agreement, not all defendants did. As a result of Plaintiff's failure to reach an agreement with all defendants, Plaintiff filed suit on October 7, 2009. Counsel for Dr. Eisemann returned the acceptance of service to Plaintiff's counsel in January, 2010. Plaintiff did not filed the acceptance with the court at that time. The trial court dismissed the case on its own motion on April 15, 2011 based on Plaintiff's failure to prosecute his claim. Three days later, Plaintiff filed the signed acceptances of service. Dr. Eisemann moved to dismiss. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the Eisemann defendants are equitably estopped from invoking the statute of limitations. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Plaintiff could not rely on the doctrine of equitable estoppel because his own "omissions or inadvertences" contributed to the problem. Accordingly, the Court affirmed dismissal of his case. View "Beebe v. Eisemann" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff ProSelect Insurance Company filed this declaratory relief action to determine its duty to indemnify its insured in a lawsuit alleging medical malpractice and sexual assault. The trial court construed a policy exclusion to bar coverage and entered judgment in favor of ProSelect. Plaintiff Robyn Levy appealed that judgment, asserting that: (1) the malpractice claims are covered under the concurrent causation doctrine; and (2) the policy exclusion as interpreted by the trial court contravenes public policy. Plaintiff alleged she began psychiatric counseling with Defendant's insured, Dr. Peter McKenna from 2003-2005. In that time, Plaintiff alleged Dr. McKenna negligently failed to properly diagnose her psychological disorder, prescribed harmful medications, encouraged her to pursue "unhealthy lifestyle choices," failed to refer her to a community-based mental health program, and engaged in treatment "at variance with accepted professional protocols." In a separate count, Levy alleged that, "[i]n the course of . . . treatment," Dr. McKenna had committed sexual assault and battery. ProSelect filed suit seeking a declaration that its professional liability policy excluded coverage of Plaintiff's suit. The trial court reasoned that the underlying action was indisputably a "suit" that contains an allegation of sexual assault. Therefore, by its plain terms the policy barred coverage of the complaint in its entirety, "[e]ven assuming" that the medical malpractice count was—as Plaintiff claimed—"totally unrelated" to the sexual assault and therefore otherwise covered. The trial court thus granted ProSelect’s motion and entered judgment in its favor. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that Plaintiff's malpractice and assault claims could not be viewed as separate or independent causes, and coverage can not be grounded on the "concurrent causation doctrine." Furthermore, without a basis in the concurrent causation doctrine, there was no violation of public policy Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "ProSelect Insurance Co. v. Levy" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Terrance White appealed a superior court's order in his wrongful death action that granted summary judgment to Defendant Fletcher Allen Health Care, Inc. This case arose from the suicide of Plaintiff's fourteen-year-old daughter. Plaintiff sued Defendant, which employed a psychiatrist who was briefly involved with the decedent's case through a telepsychiatry research study. Plaintiff argued that summary judgment was improperly granted on the issue of the duty owed to decedent by the psychiatrist. Ultimately, the trial court found that the psychiatrist's contact with decedent was "so minimal as to not establish a physician-patient relationship," and consequently found that no duty existed at the time of decedent's death. Even assuming that a doctor-patient relationship was established, the court concluded that it was terminated following the video-conference and, thus, any duty was extinguished by termination of the relationship and no duty existed at the time of decedent's death. The court thus granted defendant's summary judgment motion. Plaintiff argued that the court erred in finding that the doctor owed no duty to decedent. They maintained that the doctor had a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect decedent from the danger she posed to herself, and that the doctor did not effectively terminate the doctor-patient relationship prior to decedent's death. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed with Plaintiff and thus reversed the trial court's decision and remanded the case for additional proceedings. View "White v. Harris" on Justia Law