Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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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

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While driving a forklift at work, Lori Chandler was hit by another forklift and injured. She retained Turner & Associates to file a workers’ compensation claim. But Turner & Associates failed to file her claim within the statute of limitations. Adding to that, the firm’s case manager engaged in a year-and-a-half-long cover-up, which included false assurances of settlement negotiations, fake settlement offers, and a forged settlement letter purporting to be from Chandler’s former employer. Because of this professional negligence, Chandler filed a legal malpractice action. The only issue at trial was damages. The trial judge, sitting as fact-finder, concluded that Chandler had suffered a compensable work-related injury—an injury that caused her to lose her job and left her unemployed for nearly two years. Based on her hourly wage, the trial judge determined, had Turner & Associates timely filed Chandler’s workers’ compensation claim, Chandler could have reasonably recovered $50,000 in disability benefits. So the trial judge awarded her $50,000 in compensatory damages. The trial judge also awarded Chandler $100,000 in punitive damages against the case manager due to her egregious conduct. The Court of Appeals affirmed the punitive-damages award. But the court reversed and remanded the compensatory-damages award. Essentially, the Court of Appeals held that Chandler had failed to present sufficient medical evidence to support a $50,000 workers’ compensation claim. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the appellate court: "Were this a workers’ compensation case, we might agree with the Court of Appeals. But this is a legal malpractice case. And part of what Chandler lost, due to attorney negligence, was her ability to prove her work-related injury led to her temporary total disability. ... the Court of Appeals erred by applying exacting statutory requirements for a workers’ compensation claim to Chandler’s common-law legal malpractice claim." The Court reversed on the issue of compensatory damages and reinstated the trial judge’s $50,000 compensatory-damages award. Because this was the only issue for which Chandler sought certiorari review, it affirmed the remainder of the Court of Appeals’ decision, which affirmed the punitive-damages award but reversed and remanded the grant of partial summary judgment against attorney Angela Lairy in her individual capacity. View "Turner & Associates, PLLC, et al. v. Chandler" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Christopher Gillis and dismissing the claim brought by Lori and Robert Bogue that, as a result of negligence during a surgical procedure, Lori suffered injuries, holding that there was no error.The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Gillis on statute of limitations grounds, thus rejecting the Bogues' argument that under the continuous treatment doctrine the statute of limitations did not begin to run until the conclusion of Gillis' treatment of Lori approximately one year after the date of the surgery. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in concluding that the statute of limitations began to run on the date of the surgery. View "Bogue v. Gills" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the portion of the circuit court's order granting Respondent's motion to dismiss this Petitioners' claims asserting, inter alia, medical negligence, res ipsa loquitur, and loss of consortium, but vacated the court's decision to grant the dismissal with prejudice, holding that the court erred in dismissing the action with prejudice.At issue on appeal was whether Petitioners' failure to serve a screening certificate of merit upon Respondent before filing their complaint warranted a dismissal of Petitioners' complaint with prejudice. The Supreme Court held (1) the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to proceed in this case due to Petitioners' failure to comply with the pre-suit notice requirements of the West Virginia Medical Professional Liability Act, W. Va. Code 55-7B-6; and (2) therefore, the circuit court properly dismissed the civil action, but erred in dismissing it with prejudice. View "Tanner v. Raybuck" on Justia Law

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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

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Jill, age 42, died two days after seeking treatment at Mercy’s emergency department. A postmortem examination by the medical examiner indicated that Jill died from myocarditis resulting from sepsis; Jill’s blood cultures showed that MRSA bacteria was present in Jill’s blood. At the request of Jill’s family, Bryant performed a second autopsy and concluded that Jill’s cause of death was acute and chronic congestive heart failure due to dilated cardiomyopathy. Bryant’s report did not indicate that Jill had myocarditis or sepsis. Her estate sued for wrongful death and medical negligence, arguing that Jill died of toxic shock syndrome and sepsis caused by a retained tampon, which could have been treated by antibiotics if timely diagnosed. A jury returned a verdict in favor of all defendants.The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting an argument that the circuit court abused its discretion and denied the plaintiff a fair trial by refusing to issue a nonpattern jury instruction on the loss of chance doctrine and a pattern jury instruction on informed consent. When a jury is instructed on proximate cause through a pattern jury instruction, the lost chance doctrine, as a form of proximate cause, is encompassed within that instruction. The plaintiff never alleged that Jill consented to medical treatment without being adequately informed and that the treatment injured her. The plaintiff’s proposed jury instruction did not identify any treatment Jill received or any injury she received from that treatment. View "Bailey v. Mercy Hospital and Medical Center" on Justia Law

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Ittersagen brought a medical malpractice action against Advocate Medical and Dr. Thakadiyil, alleging that the defendants negligently failed to diagnose him with sepsis and treat him appropriately. A jury was sworn. More than halfway through the trial, the court received a note from a juror, who reported that he had a business relationship with “the Advocate Health Care System Endowment.” The juror, a partner in a company that handles investments, said he believed the endowment was affiliated with but separate from Advocate Medical. He explained that his connection to Advocate Medical was so attenuated that he forgot to mention it during jury selection. The juror insisted that the outcome of the trial would not affect him financially and that he could remain fair and impartial. The trial court denied Ittersagen’s request to remove the juror for actual bias or implied bias and to replace him with an alternate juror. The jury returned a verdict for the defendants.The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting an argument that the juror’s business relationship with the endowment created a presumption of bias that cannot be rebutted by claims of impartiality. The court noted the lack of evidence of the affiliation between the endowment and Advocate. The juror did not owe Advocate a fiduciary duty and did not have any other direct relationship with the defendants that would create a presumption of juror bias as a matter of law. View "Ittersagen v. Advocate Health and Hospitals Corp." on Justia Law

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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

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Appellant Sekayi White was an incarcerated and self-represented plaintiff who filed suit after his criminal defense lawyer, respondent Michael Molfetta, failed to respond to repeated requests for his case file. Having exhausted all avenues of direct state appeal of his conviction, White wanted to use the file to help him prepare petitions for collateral habeas relief. Molfetta received White’s letters, but believed he was prohibited from producing the file because it included protected materials. Instead of explaining the problem directly to his former client and producing the unprotected parts of the file, Molfetta effectively ignored the letters. Molfetta produced the file, minus protected materials, only after being ordered to do so by the trial judge in the underlying litigation here. By the time of the production, White’s deadline to file a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus had expired; his petition in the state court was also denied. White sued to recoup the money he spent reconstructing the file, later asking for emotional distress damages. He got neither. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment in Molfetta’s favor, “but we publish in the hope the embarrassment we feel about the case can lead to improvement. … absent a miscarriage of justice (of which we have no evidence here) our moral and professional assessments, however deeply felt, cannot create a cause of action in tort. As explained herein, we must agree with the trial court: White failed to adequately plead and prove injury from Molfetta’s wrongful behavior.” View "White v. Molfetta" on Justia Law

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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