Causation in Indiana Medical Malpractice Cases

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.

The 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.

Several years later, the patient was admitted to the emergency room, complaining of painful and frequent urination, incontinence, confusion, slurred speech, and disorientation. Another CT scan was ordered. This time, the results showed that there was a suspicious mass on the patient’s liver that turned out to be cancerous. Later, the two CT scan results were compared, and upon taking a closer look, the mass was present in the earlier scan. From the time of the first scan to the second, the mass had roughly doubled in size.

The patient’s wife filed this medical malpractice lawsuit against the VA, arguing that the VA’s failure to diagnose her husband’s condition resulted in his premature death. In support of her claim, she presented several expert witnesses to establish causation.

One expert testified that, had the patient been diagnosed earlier, he could have potentially received a liver transplant. However, on further questioning from the defense, the expert admitted that the patient would not likely have been approved for a transplant, due to the large size of the mass on the first scan.

Another expert testified that, had the patient undergone a liver transplant, there was a 30% chance that it would have cured his disease. That expert also explained that even if the patient was not eligible for a transplant, there were other care options that may have extended the patient’s life. However, when pressed by the defense, the expert admitted that he was relying on “median patient” data and would not estimate the effect earlier treatment would have had in the patient’s case.

The VA moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to establish that its negligence caused the patient’s premature death. The court agreed, noting that expert testimony must be based on “a reasonable degree of medical certainty” in order to be considered.

Here, the court held that the plaintiff’s experts did not testify to that standard. The court explained that there was no guarantee that, even if the VA had diagnosed the cancer, the patient would have received a transplant. Furthermore, it was only a 30% chance that the transplant would have cured the patient’s disease. Finally, the court noted that the “median patient” data suggesting the patient may have lived longer with earlier intervention was only a “mere possibility.”

Have You Been a Victim of Medical Malpractice?

If you or a loved one has recently been a victim of what you believe to be medical malpractice, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through an Indiana medical malpractice lawsuit. While these cases can be extremely complex, the skilled Indiana personal injury attorneys at the law firm of Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse have extensive experience representing clients in a wide range of medical malpractice cases, including misdiagnoses and missed diagnoses. Call 888-532-7766 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney at Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse today.

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