Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

One of the most contested aspects in many Indiana medical malpractice cases is the element of causation. Simply stated, in order to succeed in a medical malpractice case, a plaintiff must not only show that the defendant medical provider was negligent but also show that their negligence was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. While this may seem simple in concept, the reality is that causation in medical malpractice cases is very complex. A recent medical malpractice opinion issued by a federal court of appeals illustrates one plaintiff’s difficulty in establishing causation.

SurgeryThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving spouse of a man who died from liver cancer. The plaintiff’s husband suffered from numerous medical conditions, including cirrhosis, and was treated by the local Veterans Administration (VA) hospital.

In 2011, the plaintiff’s husband showed signs of elevated liver function and had a CT scan performed. The VA doctor interpreting the scan results noted that the patient’s cirrhosis was stable but failed to make any other observations or diagnosis.

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Medical malpractice cases can be brought under a number of different theories. For example, surgical errors and misdiagnoses are two common types of Indiana medical malpractice cases. Another theory of liability under the medical malpractice umbrella is called medical battery.

Operating Room ErrorMedical battery is based on the idea that a doctor can only perform a procedure on a patient who consents to that procedure. In the eyes of the law, a surgeon who performs a procedure without a patient’s consent is no different from a person who attacks a victim with a knife against their will. Thus, for any medical procedure, doctors must obtain informed consent.

The term “informed consent” can be a tricky one and often requires more than the doctor asking the patient if they are aware of the risks and then proceeding with the procedure. In most situations, doctors must first educate the patient on what their current ailment is, how the surgery is meant to fix it, how it will be performed, and what the likelihood of complications will be. A recent case out of Oklahoma explains that the doctor should also tell the patient whether any non-doctor assistants will be helping the doctor.

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Earlier this month, one state appellate court issued a written opinion in a medical malpractice case brought by a woman who suffered serious injuries after a surgery that was performed by the defendant doctors. The case presented the court with the opportunity to determine the validity of a medical release waiver that the plaintiff had signed prior to undergoing the surgery. Ultimately, the court concluded that the waiver was ambiguous and contained contradictory statements. Thus, the court decided that the lower court was improper to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim based on the waiver.

TContracthe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was required to have a spinal fusion surgery. Prior to the surgery, the plaintiff signed a release, stating:

As of January 1, 2003, [the defendants] will not carry any medical malpractice insurance. Being of sound mind and sound body, I hereby acknowledge this fact and agree not to [the defendants] for any reason. My reason for doing this is that I realize that [the defendants] will do the very best to take care of me according to community medical standards.

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Last month, an appellate court in Maryland issued a written opinion in a medical malpractice case that required the court to determine if evidence of the alleged negligence of several non-parties should have been admitted at trial. Ultimately, the court concluded that the alleged negligence of the non-parties was properly admitted because it was required to give the defendant doctor a fair trial.

Surgical ToolsThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs in the case were the surviving loved ones of a man who passed away from a stroke after being treated by the defendant doctor. The man’s original injuries stemmed from a racquetball accident. At the time of the accident, the man suffered from various health issues that put him at a higher risk for a stroke, such as moderate obesity and hypertension.

After his fall, the man was treated by a number of doctors, one of whom was the defendant in this case. After the defendant doctor treated the man, he was then treated by several other doctors prior to ultimately suffering from the stroke that claimed his life.

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Earlier last month, an appellate court in California issued a written opinion in a medical malpractice case upholding a lower court’s decision to grant the plaintiff a new trial after newly discovered evidence showed that the defendant may be liable for her loved one’s death. In upholding the lower court’s decision, the court denied the defendant’s argument that the plaintiff’s failure to pay a mandatory filing fee deprived the court of the power to issue the new trial.

Wall ClockThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving loved one of a patient who had been left quadriplegic after being treated by the defendant hospital. Shortly after the patient’s diagnosis, he filed a lawsuit against the hospital, claiming it was responsible for his condition. After a jury trial, it was determined that the hospital’s negligence was not the cause of his quadriplegia. Shortly after trial, the patient died.

After the patient’s death, the plaintiff discovered additional evidence suggesting the defendant’s actions were the cause of her loved one’s quadriplegia and subsequent death. The plaintiff petitioned the court for a new trial. A required part of that petition was the payment of a filing fee. The plaintiff filed the petition on time but failed to pay the filing fee.

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All personal injury cases are subject to a statute of limitations. Statutes of limitations lay out the time frame in which a plaintiff needs to file their case. If a case is filed after the statute of limitations, it will be dismissed by the court as untimely unless an exception applies. Medical malpractice cases in particular are subject to generally shortened and extremely strict statutes of limitations.

GurneySince medical malpractice cases are subject to stricter requirements, parties will often litigate whether a claim is one of medical malpractice or ordinary negligence. This is especially the case when the plaintiff’s case was filed after the relevant statute of limitations for a medical malpractice case but before the statute of limitations for ordinary negligence. A recent case in front of a California appellate court illustrates one plaintiff’s battle to classify his injury case as one of ordinary negligence.

Nava v. Saddleback Memorial Medical Center

Nava was a patient at Saddleback, the defendant medical center. One day during his stay at Saddleback, Nava was being transported in the hospital on a gurney when the gurney tipped over, causing Nava to fall to the ground. Nava suffered several fractures to his clavicle and patella as a result of the fall.

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Earlier this month, one state’s appellate court discussed and adopted the “continuing course of treatment” doctrine in the context of a medical malpractice case. In the case, Parr v. Rosenthal, the court determined that it would adopt the doctrine, but it held that the specifics of the case at issue prevented the doctrine from being applied to extend the statute of limitations.

Doctor at ComputerParr v. Rosenthal:  The Facts

The plaintiffs were the parents of a young boy who was treated for a rare desmoid tumor by the defendant. At birth, their son had a large bump behind his right calf. For several years, the bump was undiagnosed, but eventually a team of doctors diagnosed the bump as a desmoid tumor.

The defendant was among the practice group of doctors treating the boy, but he was not initially involved. After diagnosing the boy, the treating doctors referred the parents to the defendant, who was a pioneer in the use of radio frequency ablation to treat tumors. However, the defendant had never used the technique on a desmoid tumor. After discussing the procedure with the plaintiffs, it was agreed that the defendant would perform the procedure on their son.

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Earlier last month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a car accident case brought by a man who was injured by an on-duty paramedic on his way to the scene of an accident. The case, Aldana v. Stillwagon, presented the issue of whether a case involving a regular traffic accident caused by an on-duty paramedic should be considered a “medical malpractice” case for the purpose of determining which procedural rules apply. Ultimately, the court determined that since the accident was “garden variety” and didn’t involve the paramedic’s professional duties, the case should not be considered a medical malpractice case.

AmbulanceThe Facts of the Case

The defendant, Stillwagon, was an on-duty paramedic who was called to respond to a traffic accident. He was not in a marked ambulance but was instead driving a special pick-up truck that was outfitted with lights and sirens. However, at the time, neither was activated.

On his way to the accident scene, Stillwagon ran a red light and struck Aldana’s vehicle, causing him serious injuries. Aldana filed a personal injury lawsuit against Stillwagon but did so 17 months after the accident. In response to the complaint filed against him, Stillwagon asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that the appropriate statute of limitations was one year under the state’s medical malpractice act.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Idaho issued a written opinion affirming a jury’s verdict in favor of a man who lost his wife to a serious infection after undergoing a procedure at the defendant’s cosmetic clinic. In the case, Ballard v. Kerr, the court dismissed the defendant’s approximately 20 claims of error and affirmed the jury’s verdict below. However, the appellate court did find that the award of nearly $150,000 in attorneys’ fees was not appropriate, and it reversed the lower court on that issue alone.

Medical SuppliesA Woman Undergoes an Elective Cosmetic Surgery and Suffers a Serious Infection

Ms. Ballard underwent an elective liposuction procedure whereby the doctor was to implant the removed fat from her stomach into her buttocks. During the procedure, as is common, the doctor used both disposable and reusable medical equipment. The procedure seemed to go as planned, and Ms. Ballard returned home later that day.

However, within a few days, Ms. Ballard called the doctor’s office to move her follow-up visit forward due to immense pain she was experiencing in her buttocks. The doctor inspected the area but did not see any signs of infection. Out of an abundance of caution, he prescribed her antibiotics.

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Personal injury and medical malpractice cases are subject to a maximum amount of time that a plaintiff can wait before bringing the lawsuit. This amount of time is outlined in what is called a statute of limitations. There are several types of statutes of limitations, and determining which statute of limitations applies in any given case is not always straightforward. Similarly, it can also be difficult to determine when a statute of limitations begins to run.

SurgeryIn a recent medical malpractice case in front of a state appellate court, the court determined that under the “continuing course of treatment” doctrine, the plaintiff was excused for not filing the case within the normal statute of limitations. In the case, Cefaratti v. Aranow, the court determined that, although the plaintiff’s case was technically filed after the statute of limitations, under the “continuing course of treatment” doctrine, the statute of limitations didn’t actually begin to run until after the plaintiff stopped being treated by the allegedly negligent doctor.

Indiana Statutes of Limitations

In Indiana, the general rule is that a medical malpractice plaintiff has two years to file their lawsuit against the defendants. This two-year timeframe usually begins on the date when the alleged negligence occurred. Thus, for example, if a plaintiff is claiming medical negligence based on a surgical error, the clock would start on the date of the surgery.

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