Justia Medical Malpractice Opinion Summaries
Johnson v. Armstrong
Johnson suffers from severe, permanent nerve damage, which he alleges was caused by a negligently performed hip replacement surgery. He sued his surgeon, Dr. Armstrong, citing specific negligence and the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. He also brought a res ipsa loquitur claim against a surgical technician who participated in the surgery. Johnson provided one expert witness, also a surgeon, to establish the elements of res ipsa loquitur. The court granted the technician summary judgment, stating that Johnson failed to present an expert witness to establish the standard of care for a technician, that the control element of res ipsa loquitur was not met, and that there was no evidence of negligence on the technician’s part. The court subsequently granted Armstrong summary judgment on the res ipsa loquitur count, leaving the count of specific negligence remaining. The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court dismissed and vacated in part. The effect of the summary judgment in favor of Armstrong is to preclude Johnson from proving that Armstrong was negligent under the unique proofs of res ipsa loquitur, but the claim for negligence remains outstanding. The summary judgment order with respect to Armstrong was not a final judgment; the appellate court lacked jurisdiction. With respect to the other defendants, the elements of res ipsa loquitur were met at the time of the decision; no further expert testimony on the standard of care was required. Given that the Armstrong summary judgment was pronounced after the technician was orally dismissed from the res ipsa loquitur count, the circuit court was directed to reconsider that order in light of this opinion. View "Johnson v. Armstrong" on Justia Law
Lash v. Sparta Community Hospital
Lash, a 60-year-old, obese man with a remote history of smoking and high blood pressure, was traveling when he experienced shortness of breath and chest discomfort. He went to Sparta hospital. An EKG, blood work, and a chest x-ray revealed no signs of a previous heart attack, but his white blood cells and blood sugar were slightly elevated, suggesting a cardiac event. Dr. Panico identified mild congestive failure and an enlarged right hilum, a part of the lung. He recommended a CT scan to rule out a mass. Dr. Motwani, the main physician responsible for treating Lash, diagnosed an “anxiety reaction” and prescribed medications. Lash was not informed of his congestive heart failure nor that an enlarged right hilum could mean heart failure or cancer. One nurse mentioned only that Lash was seen for an “anxiety reaction.” The next evening, Lash went into cardiac arrest. He was taken to the emergency room, where he was pronounced dead.In a malpractice suit by Lash’s estate, the district court granted Sparta hospital summary judgment. Motwani settled the case and was dismissed from the lawsuit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. . The Illinois Tort Immunity Act provides that “a local public entity,” such as Sparta, is not liable for an employee’s negligent “diagnosis.” Lash never received any treatment, so no doctor could have failed to disclose information that might have changed his decisions. View "Lash v. Sparta Community Hospital" on Justia Law
Joyner, et al. v. Leapheart, et al.
Prior to this appeal, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s order dismissing with prejudice Vanessa and Brock Joyner’s wrongful death action against defendants Dr. Lynn Leaphart and MPPG, Inc. (“MPPG”), in accordance with the “two-dismissal rule” of OCGA § 9-11-41 (a) (3)1 following the Joyners’ voluntary dismissal of two later-filed actions. In Division 2 of its opinion, the Court of Appeals held that, even though the Joyners’ second and third actions were filed against defendants who were not sued in the original, pending action, the two-dismissal rule nevertheless applied, and the second voluntary dismissal operated as an adjudication on the merits requiring the dismissal of the action against Leaphart and MPPG. To the Georgia Supreme Court, the Joyners argued the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the two dismissal rule applied to the second voluntary dismissal. To this, the Supreme Court agreed the appellate court did err, vacated the judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Joyner, et al. v. Leapheart, et al." on Justia Law
Giudicy v. Mercy Hospitals East Communities
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Appellant's medical malpractice case without prejudice for failure to file an affidavit of merit within 180 days pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. 538.225, holding that there was no error.On appeal, Appellant argued (1) section 538.225 violates multiple provisions of the Missouri Constitution, (2) the defense of failure to file an affidavit of merit was waived, and (3) he substantially complied with the statute. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Appellant's constitutional claims were without merit; (2) section 538.225 is not an affirmative defense that can be waived if not pleaded in an answer; and (3) to the extent substantial compliance with section 538.225 is possible, Appellant failed to substantially comply. View "Giudicy v. Mercy Hospitals East Communities" on Justia Law
UMIA Insurance, Inc. v. Saltz
Saltz, a plastic surgeon, was sued by a former patient for releasing her photographs to a news outlet. Saltz submitted his legal defense to his malpractice insurance provider, UMIA, which initially defended Saltz but sought a declaratory judgment, claiming that Saltz lacked insurance coverage for the former patient’s claims. The district court found that Saltz was not covered under the plain language of the policy and dismissed his claim for waiver and his request for punitive damages but denied UMIA’s motion for judgment as a matter of law and allowed Saltz’s promissory estoppel and breach of the duty of good faith claims. Over UMIA’s objections, the court also allowed evidence from a settlement negotiation to be presented to the jury, which found in favor of Saltz on both claims.The Utah Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings on Saltz’s requests for punitive damages and for attorney fees incurred on appeal. The district court properly allowed Saltz’s claims for promissory estoppel and breach of the duty of good faith to go to the jury; the court was correct to deny UMIA’s motion for a new trial on the claim for breach of the duty of good faith. The court upheld the admission of evidence from the settlement talks. The district court erred in dismissing Saltz’s claims for waiver and for punitive damages. View "UMIA Insurance, Inc. v. Saltz" on Justia Law
Medical Mutual Insurance Co NC v. Rebecca Littaua
Plaintiff, Medical Mutual Insurance Company (“Med Mutual”) was the insurance carrier for numerous defendants in medical malpractice suit. Med Mutual provided the defense for the state case but, during discovery, alleged that one of the insureds had made a material modification to the Decedent’s medical records. Med Mutual brought the federal action seeking a declaratory judgment concluding that it has no obligation to provide insurance coverage for the defense of the state case. The district court declined to exercise jurisdiction over a declaratory judgment action while a parallel action was pending in state court. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The court explained when a Section 2201 action is filed in federal court while a parallel state case is pending, the court has recognized that “courts have broad discretion to abstain from deciding declaratory judgment actions.” When deciding whether to hear such a declaratory judgment action, the court considers four factors: (1) whether the state has a strong interest in having the issues decided in its courts; (2) whether the state courts could resolve the issues more efficiently than the federal courts; (3) whether the presence of “overlapping issues of fact or law” might create unnecessary “entanglement” between the state and federal courts; and (4) whether the federal action is mere “procedural fencing”. Here, the factors favoring abstention are at least as strong, if not stronger, than those favoring retention and Med Mutual has not demonstrated an abuse by the district court of its broad discretion. View "Medical Mutual Insurance Co NC v. Rebecca Littaua" on Justia Law
Davies v. MultiCare Health Sys.
This case addressed the difference between two claims that arose from the same accident and that were based on the same medical care: a medical malpractice claim and a failure to secure informed consent claim. In 2017, Mari Davies was in a single-car rollover accident. When Davies arrived at the E.R. she had hypertension, high blood pressure, left shoulder pain, neck pain, chest pain, abdominal pain, a headache, and some tingling in her left arm. She also had preexisting kidney stones, diverticulosis, pneumonia, and diabetes. Dr. Michael Hirsig evaluated her as soon as she arrived in the E.R.: consulted with a neurosurgeon, ordered tests and prescribed medicines. Dr. Hirsig diagnosed Davies with a stable cervical spine fracture. He determined that she had no “neurological symptoms.” Davies visited her primary care provider the next day. While in his office, Davies exhibited stroke symptoms. She was immediately transported to the E.R. at Providence St. Peter Hospital. She had, indeed, suffered a stroke. It was later determined Davies’ stroke was caused by a vertebral artery dissection (VAD) that occurred at the time of the accident. A VAD is typically detected by a computed tomography angiography (CTA) scan. It was undisputed that the E.R. doctor who treated Davies when she first presented to the hospital, did not order a CTA scan. Davies filed suit against MultiCare Health System, the parent corporation of Good Samaritan Hospital, alleging (1) medical negligence, (2) failure to obtain informed consent, and (3) corporate negligence. On cross motions for partial summary judgment, the trial court dismissed Davies’ informed consent claim. The trial court found no material factual dispute related to the informed consent claim and dismissed it as unsupported by the law. Davies’ medical negligence claims proceeded to trial. The jury found that none of the health care provider defendants were negligent. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding facts in the record sufficient to support an informed consent claim. The Washington Supreme Court adhered to prior decisions holding that in general, a patient cannot bring an informed consent claim where, as here, the physician ruled out the undiagnosed condition entirely. View "Davies v. MultiCare Health Sys." on Justia Law
Ex parte Lisa Mestas.
Defendant-petitioner Lisa Mestas petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to vacate its order denying her motion for a summary judgment in this wrongful-death/medical-negligence action brought by David Lee Autrey, as the personal representative of the estate of his wife, Bridgette Ann Moore, and to enter a summary judgment in Mestas's favor on the basis of State-agent immunity. In May 2017, Autrey's wife, Moore, went to the University of South Alabama Medical Center to undergo a surgery required by the prior amputation of her right leg. The surgery was performed without incident, and Moore was transferred to a hospital room for recovery. At approximately 9:30 p.m. that night, nurses found Moore unresponsive. Attempts to revive her were unsuccessful, and Moore was pronounced deceased. It was later determined that Moore died as a result of opioid-induced respiratory depression ("OIRD"). Mestas argued that, at all times relevant to Autrey's lawsuit, she was an employee of the University of South Alabama ("USA") and served as the Chief Nursing Officer ("CNO") for USA Health System, which included USA Medical Center, various clinics, and a children's hospital. According to Mestas, as the CNO, her primary responsibilities were administrative in nature and she had not provided any direct patient care since 2010. Mestas argued that because Autrey's claims against her arose from the line and scope of her employment with a State agency,2 and because she did not treat Moore, she was entitled to, among other things, State-agent immunity. The Supreme Court concluded Mestas demonstrated she was entitled to state-agent immunity, and that she had a clear right to the relief sought. The Court therefore granted her petition and issued the writ, directing the trial court to grant her summary judgment. View "Ex parte Lisa Mestas." on Justia Law
JEFFERY MARTIN V. PIERCE COUNTY
Plaintiff appealed the district court’s dismissal of his state medical malpractice claim for failing to file a declaration declining to submit the case to arbitration pursuant to RCW 7.70A.020. At issue is: does a Washington state law requiring a claimant to file a declaration declining to submit the case to arbitration when filing a medical malpractice suit apply in federal court? The Ninth Circuit held that Washington’s declaration requirement conflicts with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Accordingly, the court held that under Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460 (1965), the state rule did not apply in federal court and the district court erred in dismissing Plaintiff’s malpractice claim because RCW 7.70A.020 does not apply in federal court. The court reasoned that Washington state law requires a plaintiff in a medical malpractice suit to elect or decline to submit a claim to arbitration at the time suit is commenced. RCW 7.70A.020. If the plaintiff elects not to submit the dispute to arbitration, the plaintiff must meet certain requirements, including filing a declaration at the time of commencing the action that the claimant elected not to submit the dispute to arbitration. The court held that Washington’s state law declaration requirement conflicts Rule 8’s requirements of a short and plain statement of plaintiff’s claim, jurisdictional statement and explanation of the relief sought, and Rule 3, which requires only the filing of a complaint to commence an action—and nothing more. View "JEFFERY MARTIN V. PIERCE COUNTY" on Justia Law
Ex parte Dahlia McKinney, M.D.
Dahlia McKinney, M.D., a defendant in the wrongful-death/medical negligence action, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate an order compelling Dr. McKinney, ostensibly under Alabama's discovery rules, to alter the contents of a registered death certificate she prepared in connection with the death of Paydro White ("Paydro"). On December 31, 2013, Paydro sought medical treatment at the emergency department of Princeton Baptist Medical Center where he was diagnosed with possible pneumonia; he was discharged on that same date. The following afternoon, Paydro returned to the emergency department seeking follow-up care; he was formally admitted for treatment by the emergency physician on duty at that time. Later that evening, after Dr. McKinney began her evening shift, Paydro become unresponsive. Although he was initially successfully resuscitated, Paydro later died in the early morning hours of January 2, 2014. Dr. McKinney, who completed and signed Paydro's death certificate, identified the contributing causes of Paydro's death as "Pulseless electrical activity" due to "Acute Myocardial Infarction." Subsequent postmortem examinations and the autopsy of Paydro's body revealed that "the most likely cause of ... death [was] pulmonary Thromboembolism" -- a final diagnosis with which Dr. McKinney's later deposition testimony indicated she agreed. Dorothy White ("Dorothy"), Paydro's mother, was the personal representative of Paydro's estate. In that capacity, she sued numerous defendants allegedly connected with Paydro's medical treatment, including Dr. McKinney, largely arguing Paydro's death had been caused by the defendants' purported failure to timely diagnose and treat the pulmonary thromboembolism that ultimately caused Paydro's death. Dr. McKinney, who had provided no medical treatment to Paydro other than in connection with emergency resuscitation attempts, informally requested her voluntary dismissal as a defendant. In an email communication to Dr. McKinney's counsel, the estate's counsel indicated that a decision on that request would be aided by Dr. McKinney's voluntary amendment of the original cause of death indicated on Paydro's death certificate to identify his cause of death as a pulmonary thromboembolism. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court exceeded its discretion in compelling Dr. McKinney to amend the death certificate. Dr. McKinney therefore demonstrated a clear legal right to her requested relief. The trial court was ordered to vacate its order compelling Dr. McKinney to amend the cause of death on Paydro's death certificate. View "Ex parte Dahlia McKinney, M.D." on Justia Law