Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court

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L.M. suffered a severe injury during birth and subsequently sued Laura Hamilton, the midwife who delivered him, for negligence. Hamilton prevailed at trial. On appeal, L.M. argued the trial court erred by admitting evidence that natural forces of labor could have caused the injury and testimony from a biomechanical engineer to the same effect. L.M. argued the trial court should have excluded the evidence under Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (1923), and the testimony under ER 702. The Washington Supreme Court found that under Frye, the trial court had to exclude evidence that was not based on generally accepted science. And under ER 702, the trial court had to exclude testimony from unqualified experts and testimony that was unhelpful to the jury. L.M.'s challenge concerned the extent to which the challenged science had to be "generally accepted." And his ER 702 challenge hinged on the amount of discretion an appellate court granted a trial court under the rule. Finding the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the challenged evidence, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial and appellate courts. View "L.M. v. Hamilton" on Justia Law

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Jose Reyes died after a course of treatment for tuberculosis. Judith Reyes alleged that her husband did not have tuberculosis and that the treatment prescribed to him for that disease caused him fatal liver damage due to an undiagnosed, underlying, liver disease. Judith alleged that the Yakima Health District and Christopher Spitters, M.D., were negligent in treating Jose. A year after filing suit, her expert witness submitted an affidavit alleging as much. But because allegations of misdiagnosis without deviation from the proper standard of care was not the basis for liability, the Washington Supreme Court held that the expert witness' affidavit was insufficient to create a genuine issue of material face, and affirmed the Court of Appeals. "In so holding, we do not require talismanic words, but the words... the want of the right word makes lightning from lightening bugs." View "Reyes v. Yakima Health Dist." on Justia Law

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The sole issue in this case was whether advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs) were per se disqualified from testifying on proximate cause in a medical negligence case. The Washington Supreme Court held that ARNPs may be qualified to testify regarding causation in a medical malpractice case if the trial court determines that the ARNP meets the threshold requirements of ER 702. The ability to independently diagnose and prescribe treatment for a particular malady was strong evidence that the expert might be qualified to discuss the cause of that same malady. The Court reversed the trial court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Frausto v. Yakima HMA, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case, a manufacturer sold a surgical device to a hospital, which credentialed some of its physicians to perform surgery with the device. The manufacturer's warnings regarding that device were at the heart of this case: whether the manufacturer owed a duty to warn the hospital that purchased the device. The manufacturer argued that since it warned the physician who performed the surgery, it had no duty to warn any other party. The Supreme Court disagreed because the doctor was often not the product purchaser. The Court found that the WPLA required manufacturers to warn purchasers about their dangerous medical devices. “Hospitals need these warnings to credential the operating physicians and to provide optimal care for patients. In this case, the trial court did not instruct the jury that the manufacturer had a duty to warn the hospital that purchased the device. Consequently, we find that the trial court erred.” View "Taylor v. Intuitive Surgical Inc." on Justia Law

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This case involved a medical malpractice action for a lost chance of a better outcome. The parties jointly sought direct discretionary review under RAP 2.3(b)(4), challenging two pretrial rulings: (1) whether a court should use a "but for" or "substantial factor" standard of causation in loss of chance cases; and (2) whether evidence relating to a contributory negligence defense should be excluded based on the plaintiffs failure to follow his doctor's instructions. The trial court decided that the but for standard applies and the contributory negligence defense was not appropriate in this case. "Traditional tort causation principles guide a loss of chance case." Applying those established principles, under the circumstances here, the Supreme Court concluded a but for cause analysis was appropriate, and affirmed the trial court's ruling on that issue. The Court reverse the trial court's partial summary judgment dismissing the contributory negligence defense. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Dunnington v. Virginia Mason Med. Ctr." on Justia Law

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Ho Im Bae died from acute morphine intoxication at Lakeside Adult Family Home. Esther Kim, the personal representative of Bae's estate, brought tort claims against several individuals involved in Bae's care. The issue this appeal presented for the Supreme Court's review came from Alpha Nursing & Services Inc. and two of its nurses, who did not provide nursing services to Bae, but who were alleged to have observed signs of abuse and physical assault that should have been reported to the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and law enforcement. Specifically, the issue was whether the abuse of vulnerable adults act (AVAA) created an implied cause of action against mandated reporters who fail to report abuse. The trial court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that one of the nurses did not have a duty to report and the other nurse fulfilled her reporting duty by contacting DSHS. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals on this issue: "[t]he AVAA creates a private cause of action against mandated reporters who fail to report abuse, and genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment." A separate issue was whether the claims against one of the nurses should have been dismissed for insufficient service. The nurse, Christine Thomas, moved to Norway, and plaintiff personally served her there almost a year after filing and amended complaint and properly serving Alpha. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's denial of the nurse's motion to dismiss: "Consistent with Norway's ratification of the Hague Convention, however, the plaintiff acted with reasonable diligence in serving Thomas through Norway's designated central authority." View "Kim v. Lakeside Adult Family Home" on Justia Law

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The King County Superior Court relied on "Waples v. Yi," (234 P.3d 187 (2010)) in invalidating RCW 7.70.100(1) as applied to lawsuits against the State, including governmental agencies such as Harborview Medical Center. This case stemmed from a paragliding accident Petitioner Glen McDevitt suffered, for which he underwent surgery at Harborview. Petitioner sued Harborview for malpractice in relation to his treatment. Harborview moved for summary judgment based on the fact that Petitioner failed to comply with the 90 day presuit notice requirement of RCW 7.70.100(1). Harborview requested that Petitioner's lawsuit be dismissed with prejudice. In response, Petitioner argued that our decision in "Waples" invalidated the presuit notice requirement against both private and public defendants. Harborview then argued that the Supreme Court did not have occasion to consider the constitutional validity of the presuit notice requirement as applied to lawsuits against the State. The King County Superior Court denied Harborview’s motion for summary judgment. Harborview then appealed to the Supreme Court. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court on the grounds that the legislature could establish conditions precedent, including presuit notice requirements, to inform the State of future cost and delay associated with court resolution of an issue. "[W]e hold that the presuit notice requirement of RCW 7.70.100(1) as applied to the State is a constitutionally valid statutory precondition for suit against the State because it was adopted by the legislature as provided in article II, section 26 of the Washington Constitution. View "McDevitt v. Harborview Med. Ctr." on Justia Law

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This interlocutory appeal concerned a discovery dispute involving birth injuries sustained by Jordan Gallinat at Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington, in 1996. In June 2009, Douglas Fellows, as litigation guardian for Gallinat, filed a complaint alleging medical negligence and corporate negligence against Dr. Daniel Moynihan, Dr. Kathleen Hutchinson, and the Center. The trial court determined that the Center's credentialing, privileging, and personnel records for the doctors were protected from disclosure under the quality improvement privilege (RCW 70.41.200(3)). This case also implicated the applicability of the peer review privilege codified in RCW 4.24.250. After the Court of Appeals denied discretionary review, the Supreme Court court granted petition for review. Because the Court found that the trial court erred in concluding that no other information or records need be disclosed, it remanded the case for in camera review of the records sought by Fellows. View "Fellows v. Moynihan" on Justia Law

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In a medical malpractice case, Louis Diaz sought a new trial because the trial court admitted evidence that he settled before trial with two of the defendants. Diaz contended that the trial court misapplied RCW 7.70.080 in ruling the evidence admissible. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed, concluding that: (1) RCW 7.70.080 permitted only a settling health care provider, not the nonsettling defendants, to introduce evidence of the settlement; (2) to the extent it dealt with settlements, RCW 7.70.080 was superseded by subsequent statutes that treat settlements inconsistently with subsection .080; and (3) the trial court's reading of RCW 7.70.080 would have violated the separation of powers doctrine. However, having found error, the Supreme Court held that the error was harmless because no settlement evidence was admitted at trial, the issue was a minor feature of a fairly lengthy trial, and the court gave a curative instruction at Diaz's request, which was presumed the jury followed. View "Diaz v. Washington" on Justia Law

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Ron Teter was diagnosed with a tumor in his right kidney. Urologist Dr. Andrew Deck, assisted by Dr. David Lauter, performed surgery to remove Teter’s kidney. Immediately after surgery, Teter developed a condition in which increased pressure in one compartment of the body that compromised the tissues in that compartment. Even after a procedure to relieve the pressure, Teter continued to suffer from pain in his left leg that interfered with his ability to stand for long periods of time and with his ability to engage in his usual activities. Teter and his wife (the Teters) sued Drs. Deck and Lauter for negligence. The Teters eventually settled with Dr. Lauter and stipulated to his dismissal as a defendant. The parties encountered difficulties in preparing for trial for their case against Dr. Deck. Neither the Teters nor Dr. Deck complied completely with discovery deadlines and the trial court granted motions to compel by both sides. The case was reassigned to a different judge, who made a record of his strict requirements of conducting the trial in his court. Defense counsel was routinely cautioned about her conduct during trial, and the judge noted his displeasure with both parties' "disregard for protocol and rules of evidence." The issue on appeal before the Supreme Court involved the court's exclusion of a key medical witness as sanction for the parties' conduct during trial. The Court concluded the pretrial motions judge excluded the expert without making the required findings that the violation was willful and prejudicial and could be imposed only after explicitly considering less severe sanctions. When the trial judge was reassigned to this case, he granted a new trial on the ground that the exclusion was a prejudicial error of law, and he was "well within his discretion in granting the new trial." The Supreme Court found that the facts of this case "amply" supported the ruling. View "Teter v. Deck" on Justia Law