Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

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.

The 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.

The 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.

Since 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.

Parr 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.

The 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.

A 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.

In 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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Medical malpractice and personal injury lawsuits go through several phases before the case is submitted to a jury at trial. Two of the most important pre-trial phases are the discovery phase and the summary judgment stage. The discovery phase is where the parties exchange relevant information to the case that the opposing party may not have or know to exist. Certain discovery, even of unfavorable information, is mandatory.

The summary judgment stage is where either party can ask the court to enter judgment on a case before the case is submitted to a jury. In order for a judge to determine whether summary judgment is appropriate, she looks at all the evidence and determines if either party is legally entitled to judgment in their favor. This is only the case when there are no “issues of material fact,” meaning that there are no legal issues that can be resolved in favor of the non-moving party that could result in that party’s victory.

Defendant’s Summary Judgment in Medical Malpractice Case Reversed on Appeal

In a recent case in front of the Indiana Supreme Court, the court corrected a lower court’s error in granting summary judgment to a defendant when it was not legally appropriate. In the case, Siner v. Kindred Hospital Limited Partnership, the plaintiffs were the surviving family members of a women who died a short time after being treated at the defendant hospital. The plaintiffs filed a medical malpractice lawsuit, claiming that the poor treatment at the defendant’s hospital resulted in the death of their loved one.

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Indiana’s state legislature has proposed an increase in the state’s cap on medical malpractice payments. The proposed bill would increase the state’s limits on how much compensation malpractice victims can receive. The new bill would increase the limit to $1.65 million. According to one new source, if passed, the increase would be the first in 17 years. In addition, the bill would increase the limit on what a health care provider must pay from $250,000 to $450,000. If an award exceeds that, the remainder of the money is paid by the state. The proposed bill would also limit increases to every four years based on the national inflation rate.

Indiana’s Senate President Pro Tem David Long said that he believes the cap has helped limit the state’s medical costs but also that it needs to increase to meet growing costs. Also, the current limit is being challenged in court, and Long commented that he believes that not allowing for limit increases could mean that the current state law would be deemed unconstitutional by a state court. Some other states’ caps have also been found unconstitutional.

Medical Malpractice Damages Caps

Medical malpractice damages caps limit the amount of money a plaintiff can receive from a medical malpractice lawsuit. Generally, the caps place a limit only on non-economic damages. Economic damages include the cost of medical bills and lost wages, whereas non-economic damages include pain and suffering, mental distress, and loss of companionship. However, some states have laws on all types of damages, including both non-economic and economic damages. Indiana’s current and proposed law includes all types of damages.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Texas decided the case of Galvan v. Memorial Hermann Hospital System, in which the court determined that the slip-and-fall accident that injured the plaintiff, although occurring at a hospital, was not subject to the expert requirement of medical malpractice lawsuits.

The Facts of the Case

In the case, Galvan v. Memorial Hermann Hospital System, the plaintiff was a woman who slipped and fell outside her loved one’s room in the hospital. The written opinion of the court indicates that the plaintiff was headed from the hospital pharmacy to her relative’s room when she slipped on a puddle of water that had accumulated outside a bathroom door. The woman filed a slip-and-fall lawsuit against the hospital.

In a pre-trial motion, the hospital requested that the court dismiss the case due to the plaintiff’s failure to submit an expert report, as is statutorily mandated for all medical malpractice lawsuits. The plaintiff contended that the lawsuit was not one of medical malpractice, but of ordinary negligence, for which an expert is not required under state law.

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