Justia Medical Malpractice Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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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defendants, to introduce evidence of the settlement; (2) to the extent it dealt with settlements, RCW 7.70.080 was superseded by subsequent statutes that treat settlements inconsistently with subsection .080; and (3) the trial court's reading of RCW 7.70.080 would have violated the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

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Linda Mohr suffered a trauma-induced stroke and became permanently disabled. She and her husband, Charles, claimed that negligent treatment by her health care providers caused Mrs. Mohr a loss of the chance of a better outcome. In "Herskovits v. Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound," the Supreme Court recognized the "lost chance doctrine" in a survival action when the plaintiff died following the alleged failure of his doctor to timely diagnose his lung cancer. The Mohr's case "compel[led]" consideration of whether, in the medical malpractice context, there was a cause of action for a lost chance, even when the ultimate result is some serious harm short of death. The Supreme Court held that there was such a cause of action and, accordingly, reversed the order of summary judgment. View "Mohr v. Grantham" on Justia Law

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Central to this case is the proper interpretation of a 2006 statute of limitations and statute of repose applicable to a claim for medical malpractice. Appellant Lisa Unruh filed suit against her orthodontist, Dr. Dino Cacchiotti, alleging that his negligent treatment when she was a minor resulted in her losing her teeth and having to undergo extensive implant surgery. The Doctor successfully moved for summary judgment, contending that the statute of limitations had expired. At the Court of Appeals, the Doctor raised an alternative ground for dismissing Appellant's case based on an eight-year statute of repose. After requesting supplemental briefing, the Court of Appeals certified the case for the Supreme Court's review. After review of the applicable legal authority, the Court held that neither the statute of limitations nor the statute of repose barred Appellant's claim. The Court reversed the trial court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Unruh v. Cacchiotti" on Justia Law