Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Health Law
by
Plaintiff Sean Kelly appealed the grant of summary judgment to the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) on employment discrimination and breach-of-contract claims arising from UVMMC’s decision not to extend his one-year medical fellowship. UVMMC selected plaintiff for the 2017-18 fellowship. UVMMC was aware that plaintiff suffered from an adrenal deficiency that had delayed the completion of his residency. In the first five months of the fellowship, plaintiff missed nineteen full days and parts of nine more days for various reasons. By February 2018, after missing several more days and expressing that he felt “frustrated with [his] absences” and “overall inadequate as a fellow,” program personnel became concerned that plaintiff was falling behind in his training. In a March 30 meeting, the program director told plaintiff his performance had “deficiencies and these need[ed] to be addressed.” At some point during this period, the director also told plaintiff he “should plan on extending [his] fellowship due to [his] time out and some minor deficits through August.” Plaintiff emailed other program personnel expressing frustration at the prospect of staying through August to complete his training. On April 14, 2018, plaintiff suffered a stroke, and on April 19th he attempted suicide. He was hospitalized from April 14 through May 3 and was not cleared to return to work until June 1, 2018. In all, plaintiff missed approximately six more weeks of the fellowship. On or about May 31, the director called plaintiff and told him that while UVMMC had determined he needed six more months of training to finish the fellowship, it could not accommodate additional training for that length of time. UVMMC paid plaintiff his remaining salary. Plaintiff filed a grievance under the Graduate Medical Education rules; the grievance committee affirmed UVMMC's decision. Because the decision not to extend his fellowship was an academic decision, there was no employment action and consequently no adverse employment action. The Vermont Supreme Court did not find plaintiff's arguments on appeal persuasive, and affirmed the grant of summary judgment in UVMMC's favor. View "Kelly v. University of Vermont Medical Center" on Justia Law

by
On November 21, 2017, Richard Bush presented to Saint Bernard Parish Hospital for depression and suicidal ideations. At the hospital, Dr. Miguel Aguilera treated and discharged him. Bush attempted re-admittance with the same complaints, but was refused re-admittance. Thereafter, Bush attempted suicide in the hospital bathroom. He was found alive and transported to University Hospital in New Orleans for treatment; however, he succumbed to his injuries from the suicide attempt and died on November 30, 2017. In November 2018, his wife, Patricia Bush, on behalf of herself, her daughters, Madalyn and Ashley Bush, and on behalf of the decedent, Richard Bush, filed a formal pro se complaint with the Patient Compensation Fund (“PCF”) to convene a medical review panel (“MRP”), naming Saint Bernard Parish Hospital and Dr. Aguilera for malpractice relating to Richard Bush's death. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted this writ application in order to determine: (1) whether contra non valentem interrupted prescription; and (2) whether the court of appeal erred in relying on documents that were not entered as evidence and were not part of the record. The Court found that, while contra non valentem may interrupt prescription in a wrongful death claim in certain instances, it did not interrupt prescription in this case due to the fact that the court of appeal incorrectly considered documents that were not in evidence. The Court reversed the court of appeal’s ruling in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Medical Review Panel for the Claim of Richard Bush" on Justia Law

by
Jennings, who was not a medical professional, ran Results Weight Loss Clinic in Lombard, Illinois. Jennings paid Mikaitis, who was working full‐time for a hospital in Lockport, Illinois cash to secure a Drug Enforcement Agency registration number for the clinic and to review patient charts. Over the next two years, Jennings ordered over 530,000 diet pills (controlled substances) for over $84,000 using Mikaitis’s credit card and DEA number. Mikaitis appeared at Results weekly to get $1,750 cash and review four to eight charts. Results also gave drugs—in person and by mail— to many patients whose charts he never reviewed. A nurse practitioner who worked at the clinic later testified she noticed almost immediately that Jennings was unlawfully distributing drugs. Jennings paid Mikaitis about $98,000 cash, in addition to reimbursement for drug costs.Mikaitis was tried on 17 counts. He denied knowing about illegal activity. The district judge issued a deliberate avoidance (ostrich) instruction. Convicted, Mikaitis was sentenced to 30 months. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Ample evidence demonstrated that Mikaitis subjectively believed that there was a high probability he was participating in criminal activity and that he took specific, deliberate actions to avoid learning that fact. Mikaitis was a medical professional with corresponding duties. The jury was free to conclude the red flags were obvious to him. View "United States v. Mikaitis" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the trial court denying Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's medical negligence claims, holding that Texas Medical Liability Act applied, and therefore, Plaintiff's failure to serve an expert report on Defendants was fatal to her claims.At issue was (1) whether Plaintiff's claims that Defendants negligently administered various treatments that caused scarring and discoloration to her skin constituted "health care liability claims" under the Act, and (2) whether the Act prohibited Plaintiff from filing an amended petition after the Act's deadline for serving expert reports. The Supreme Court held (1) Plaintiff's claims constituted health care liability claims subject to the Act's expert report requirements; (2) the Act did not prohibit Plaintiff from filing an amended petition; and (3) because Plaintiff failed timely to serve an expert report, Plaintiff's claims must be dismissed under the Act. View "Lake Jackson Medical Spa, Ltd. v. Gaytan" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgments of the court of appeals and the trial court concluding that the Health Care Liability Act, Tenn. Code Ann. 29-26-101 to -122, did not apply to Plaintiffs' medical battery and intentional misrepresentation claims, holding that Plaintiffs' claims fell within the definition of a "healthcare liability action" under the Act.Plaintiffs sued a doctor and his medical practice alleging medical battery and intentional misrepresentation. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that Plaintiffs did not comply with the Act's pre-suit notice and filing requirements. The trial court agreed, ruling that Defendants' misrepresentations were made before they rendered any health care services and therefore did not relate to the provision of health care services. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Act applied to Plaintiffs' claims. View "Cooper v. Mandy" on Justia Law

by
A jury returned a $4 million verdict in favor of Plaintiff Jana Bracewell, Administratix of the Estate of Cameron Chase Hill, in a medical negligence/wrongful-death suit against Defendants, B. Michael Weber, M.D., and The OB-GYN Group of Laurel, P.A. Defendants appealed the judgment, claiming the trial court erred by denying their posttrial motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or, in the alternative, a new trial. Plaintiff cross-appealed, claiming the trial court erred by reducing the jury’s noneconomic-damages award. Dr. Weber’s partner, Dr. Robert DeSantis, was Erica Shae Hill’s primary OB-GYN throughout her pregnancy. On November 23, 2001, Hill went into labor around 2:30 a.m.; she went to South Central Regional Medical Center in Laurel, Mississippi. Dr. Weber, who was on call for Dr. DeSantis that night, managed Hill’s care throughout labor, and he delivered Cameron Chase Hill by vaginal delivery at approximately 1:10 p.m. that afternoon. Cameron and Hill were discharged on November 25, 2001. The next day, Cameron was taken to Forrest General Hospital because he was not eating. Cameron ultimately was diagnosed with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), a neurological injury resulting from lack of oxygen to the brain. According to Defendants, Cameron’s Forrest General Hospital records for his admission shortly after birth included a secondary diagnosis of “viral meningits – NOS.” Cameron lived only to age five. Plaintiff filed a complaint in December 2002 on behalf of Cameron, alleging negligence on the part of Dr. Weber and The OB-GYN Group of Laurel. The complaint claimed that Dr. Weber breached the applicable standard of care by failing to recognize, appreciate, and respond to the signs and symptoms of fetal distress, ischemia, and/or hypoxia during the labor and delivery of Cameron. The Mississippi Supreme Court found no error in the trial court’s decision to deny Defendants’ motion for a JNOV or a new trial. As to Plaintiff’s cross-appeal, the Court agreed that the trial court erred by reducing the jury’s noneconomic-damages award, given that this action was filed before September 1, 2004, the date the amended version of Section 11-1-60(2)(a) went into effect. View "Weber, et al. v. Estate of Hill" on Justia Law

by
Nina’s was a residential care facility for the elderly (RCFE) licensed by the Community Care Licensing Division (CCL) of the State Department of Social Services. Plaintiff, an RN-certified legal nurse consultant, was hired to assist with the closure of Nina’s and agreed to assess each of the residents and recommend a new facility, as required by RCFE closing procedures, Health and Safety Code 1569.682(a)(1)(A).Caregivers from the new RCFE, Frye’s, came to transfer J.N. They immediately noticed that J.N. was in significant pain; multiple bandages “stuck to [J.N.’s] skin and her wounds,” which “all smelled really bad.” J.N.’s toes were black. Frye’s caregivers called 911. J.N. died weeks later. A CCL investigator contacted plaintiff, who confirmed that he had performed J.N.’s assessment. Plaintiff later denied performing J.N.’s physical assessment, stating that Mia “was the one in charge.” He denied guiding or instructing Mia during the assessment, stating he only acted as a “scribe.” The ALJ found clear and convincing evidence that plaintiff committed gross negligence in connection with J.N.'s appraisal, unprofessional conduct in carrying out nursing functions in connection with the appraisal, and unprofessional conduct by not being truthful with the Board investigator regarding J.N.'s care provided.The court of appeal upheld the revocation of plaintiff’s nursing license. Substantial evidence supports the finding that plaintiff engaged in a “usual nursing function” when he performed J.N.’s resident appraisal. Plaintiff’s dishonesty during the investigation constitutes unprofessional conduct. View "Clawson v. Board of Registered Nursing" on Justia Law

by
Vargas received extensive medical care from the Veterans Administration. In his suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 2671–80, he argued that a VA nurse was negligent in failing to order additional tests after receiving the results of urinalysis in October 2015. More testing, Vargas contended, would have revealed that he suffered from a urinary tract infection; failure to diagnose that infection led to a heart attack, which led to extended hospitalization, which led to pain and inflammation.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of his claims, upholding the district judge’s decision to allow testimony from a board-certified urologist. Federal Rule of Evidence 702 governs the admissibility of expert evidence in suits under the FTCA. The district judge was entitled to consider the urologist’s view that the applicable standard of care did not require follow-up testing to look for a urinary tract infection. If even a board-certified urologist would not have seen anything in the test result calling for further lab work, then a nurse practitioner’s identical decision cannot be negligent. Illinois does not hold nurses to the higher standard of specialists. View "Love v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Mitchell swallowed 60 Naproxen tablets. With her husband, she arrived at the Hospital emergency department on May 27, 2017, alert, oriented, and with no acute distress. The physician noted no motor deficits or sensory deficits. A nurse placed an IV catheter in Mitchell’s forearm. Nearly two hours later, Mitchell walked to the toilet with assistance from her husband, then walked back to her bed without assistance. On the way back, Mitchell fell, causing abrasions to her face and severely injuring her knee. The nursing staff had no reason to suspect Mitchell presented a high fall risk because she did not complain of dizziness; they had no observed balance problems. An x-ray and CT scan of Mitchell’s knee showed serious injuries. Mitchell was referred to physical therapy and was discharged from Hospital.Mitchell filed her complaint, alleging general negligence and premises liability on May 17, 2019. The hospital argued that the complaint alleged professional negligence, rather than general negligence or premises liability, and was barred under Code of Civil Procedure section 340.5’s one-year limitations period. Mitchell acknowledged that the condition of the floor did not contribute to her fall. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The nursing staff’s decision to not assist Mitchell in walking to the restroom was “integrally related” to her medical care. View "Mitchell v. Los Robles Regional Medical Center" on Justia Law

by
Woodson received prenatal treatment from Dr. Ramsey at NorthShore Health Centers. Ramsey informed Woodson that she would likely need to deliver her baby by C-section. Ramsey delivered P.W. vaginally at Anonymous Hospital. Woodson noticed immediately that something was wrong with P.W.’s left arm. P.W.’s arm did not improve.NorthShore is a Federally-qualified health center (FQHC) that receives federal money (42 U.S.C. 1396d(l)(2)(B)); its employees are deemed Public Health Service employees, covered against malpractice claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 42 U.S.C. 233(g). NorthShore appears in the federal government's online public database of federal funding recipients whose employees may be deemed Public Health Service employees. Woodson’s attorney, Sandoval, failed to recognize NorthShore’s status as an FQHC. Sandoval reviewed the Indiana Department of Insurance (IDOI) and Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund online databases and learned that Ramsey and Anonymous Hospital were “qualified” providers under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act. The IDOI forwarded Woodson’s complaint to Ramsey and his insurance carrier. Those claims remain pending.On December 16, 2015, NorthShore informed Sandoval that NorthShore was a federally funded health center. Woodson filed administrative tort claims, which were denied. Nearly three years after P.W.’s birth, Woodson filed suit against the government and Anonymous Hospital. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the claims accrued on December 7, 2013, the day P.W. was born, and were untimely under the FTCA’s two-year statute of limitations. Woodson had enough information shortly after P.W.'s birth to prompt her to inquire whether the manner of delivery caused P.W.’s injury. The FTCA savings provision does not apply because the IDOI never dismissed the claims. Neither Ramsey nor NorthShore had a duty to inform Woodson of their federal status. View "P.W. v. United States" on Justia Law