Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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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

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Cutchin’s wife and daughter were killed in an automobile accident that occurred when another driver, Watson, age 72, struck their vehicle. Cutchin alleges that Watson’s driving ability was impaired by medications she had been prescribed, including an opioid. Cutchin filed a malpractice suit against Watson’s healthcare providers, charging them with negligence for an alleged failure to warn Watson that she should not be driving given the known motor and cognitive effects of those medications. After the providers and their malpractice insurer agreed to a settlement of $250,000, the maximum amount for which they can be held individually liable under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act (MMA), Cutchin sought further relief from the Patient’s Compensation Fund, which acts as an excess insurer. The Fund argued that the MMA does not apply to Cutchin’s claim and that he is barred from seeking excess damages from the Fund. The district court agreed.The Seventh Circuit certified to the Indiana Supreme Court the questions: Whether Ithe MMA prohibits the Fund from contesting the Act’s applicability to a claim after the claimant concludes a court‐approved settlement with a qualified healthcare provider, and whether the MMA applies to claims brought against individuals (survivors) who did not receive medical care from the provider, but who are injured as a result of the provider’s negligence in providing medical treatment to someone else. View "Cutchin v. Robertson" on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted this writ application to determine whether “collectibility” was a relevant consideration in a legal malpractice action. Specifically, the issue presented was whether plaintiff’s damages in this legal malpractice action were limited to the amount she could have actually collected on a judgment against the tortfeasor in the underlying lawsuit. Elaine Ewing was injured in an automobile accident in 2015, when her vehicle was hit by a vehicle driven by Marc Melancon. Her counsel failed to forward the original petition for damages within seven days as required by La. R.S. 13:850. The original petition was filed on April 22, 2016, after the one-year prescriptive period had passed. Ms. Ewing’s suit was dismissed on an exception of prescription. Ms. Ewing subsequently filed a legal malpractice action against her attorney and Westport Insurance Corporation, counsel's malpractice insurer. Defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment asserting the court should apply the “collectibility rule.” Defendants alleged Ms. Ewing’s recovery could be no greater than her potential recovery in the underlying personal injury lawsuit, and recovery in this case should have been capped at Mr. Melancon’s insurance policy limits. The Supreme Court held that proof of collectibility of an underlying judgment was not an element necessary for a plaintiff to establish a claim for legal malpractice, nor could collectibility be asserted by an attorney as an affirmative defense in a legal malpractice action. View "Ewing v. Westport Ins. Co., et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court granting Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismissing Plaintiff's fraud and deceit claims, holding that the claims were time barred.Plaintiff sued a law firm and its attorneys, alleging legal malpractice, fraud and deceit related to their representation of Plaintiff on criminal charges. The circuit court granted judgment on the pleadings for Defendants, concluding that the claims were time-barred by the three-year statute of repose for legal malpractice under S.D. Codified Laws 15-2-14.2. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred in dismissing the fraud and deceit claims because those claims were subject to a six-year statute of limitations. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiff's fraud and deceit claims were subsumed within his malpractice claim; and (2) therefore, all of Plaintiff's claims were precluded under the repose statute. View "Slota v. Imhoff" on Justia Law

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In 2009, D. was delivered at Sharon Hospital by Dr. Gallagher and sustained an injury, allegedly causing her shoulder and arm permanent damage. In 2010-2011, preparing to file D.’s malpractice case, counsel requested records from Sharon and Gallagher, limited temporally to the delivery. Counsel believed that Gallagher was privately employed. Sharon was private; Gallagher was listed on the Sharon website. Counsel did not discover that Gallagher was employed by Primary Health, a “deemed” federal entity eligible for Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), malpractice coverage. D.'s mother had been Gallagher's patient for 10 years and had visited the Primary office. In contracting Gallagher, counsel used the Primary office street address. Gallagher’s responses included the words “Primary Health.” The lawsuit was filed in 2016; Pennsylvania law tolls a minor plaintiff’s action until she turns 18.The government removed the suit to federal court and substituted the government for Gallagher. The district court dismissed the suit against the government for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the FTCA. The case against Sharon returned to state court. After exhausting administrative remedies, counsel refiled the FTCA suit. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit as untimely, rejecting a claim that D. was entitled to equitable tolling of the limitations period because counsel had no reason to know that Gallagher was a deemed federal employee or that further inquiry was required. D. failed to show that she diligently pursued her rights and that extraordinary circumstances prevented her from timely filing. View "D.J.S.-W. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Vernon Walters was injured in a work-related incident in October 2006; the vehicle he was driving was struck by an oncoming train. After receiving workers’ compensation benefits, he and his wife, Donyell Walters, filed a third-party claim against the company operating the train involved in the collision, Kansas City Southern Railway Company (KCSR). The Walterses hired the Parsons Law Firm to represent them in their suit, and Tadd Parsons took the case. The Walterses’ lawsuit against KCSR was ultimately dismissed with prejudice in September 2010 for, among other reasons, failure to prosecute, failure to comply with discovery obligations and fraud upon the court. Tadd never told the Walterses that their case had been dismissed and led them to believe their case was ongoing. Three years after the case had been dismissed, Tadd admitted he fabricated a settlement offer from KCSR in the amount of $104,000 and advised the Walterses to accept the offer, which they did. When eight months passed after Tadd informed the Walterses about the fabricated settlement, the Walterses demanded to meet with Jack Parsons, the other general partner at the Parsons Law Firm. Jack offered the Walterses $50,000 to settle any claims they may have had against Tadd based on his conduct in representing them in the KCSR lawsuit. The Walterses refused Jack’s offer and then filed a claim against Tadd, Jack and the Parsons Law Firm, alleging claims of fraud, defamation, negligent representation, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and punitive damages. The trial court granted partial summary judgment for the Walterses on the matter of liability, finding that Tadd and the Parsons Law Firm were liable for fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court then held a jury trial on damages. The jury verdict awarded the Walterses $2,850,002 in compensatory damages, which exceeded what the Walterses had demanded in compensatory damages in their complaint and in their motion to set damages. Finding the jury’s verdict shocked the conscience, the court remitted the damages to $1,034,666.67 in a second amended final judgment. Parsons appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, and the Walterses cross-appealed. The Supreme Court determined the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding irrelevant evidence about the underlying KCSR lawsuit because the value of the lawsuit had no bearing on the damages the Walterses sustained due to Tadd Parsons’s and the Parsons Law Firm’s fraud and IIED. Further, the Court determined the remitted verdict’s award of damages was excessive and not supported by substantial evidence. The trial court was therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the matter remanded for a new trial on damages. View "Parsons v. Walters" on Justia Law

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In November 2007, Marten performed surgery on Doe’s face and neck. In June 2008, Doe sent Marten a letter stating she was considering suing him and demanded that he preserve her documents, files, and photos. In November, Doe’s attorney served Marten with a written demand for arbitration pursuant to a Physician-Patient Arbitration Agreement. In January 2009 Marten’s counsel responded, identifying an arbitrator, without questioning the origin of the agreement or disputing that Marten had signed it. The applicable one-year statute of limitations ran in March 2009. (Code Civ. Proc.340.5) In May 2009, Merten subpoenaed and obtained the records of Dr. Daniel, whom Doe earlier consulted. Located within Daniel’s records was a signed arbitration agreement. Nearly three years later, Marten’s counsel first confronted Doe with the arbitration agreement and refused to continue with the arbitration.Doe sued for medical malpractice and medical battery. The court overruled dismissal motions, finding triable issues as to whether equitable tolling or equitable estoppel disallowed the statute of limitations defense. The court imposed sanctions after hearing evidence that Marten destroyed electronically stored information. After the close of evidence, the trial court dismissed the medical battery claim. On the malpractice claim, the jury awarded over $6.3 million in damages. The court then found the malpractice claim time-barred. The court of appeal reversed in part. The medical malpractice claim was not time-barred because Merten’s conduct actually and reasonably induced Doe to refrain from filing a timely action. View "Doe v. Marten" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that judgment creditors cannot levy on their judgment debtor, obtain the judgment debtor's chose in action for legal malpractice against the attorney representing the judgment debtor in the litigation giving rise to the judgment, and prosecute the claim for legal malpractice against the attorney as successors in interest to their judgment debtor.Janice and Jeff Gray were awarded $127 million in a civil suit against James Lee Hohenshell. The court of appeals affirmed. While the appeal was pending, the Grays caused to be issued a writ of execution on the judgment against Hohenshell. Amongst the property levied on was any claims against Michael Oliver, Hohenshell's lawyer in the underlying suit. The Grays purchased this right for $5000 at the sheriff's sale. The Grays then filed this malpractice claim against Oliver as successors in interest to Hohenshell. The district court granted Oliver's motion for summary judgment, holding that public policy prohibits the assignment of a legal malpractice claim to an adversarial party in the underlying lawsuit. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that judgment creditors cannot prosecute a claim for legal malpractice as successors in interest to their former litigation adversary where the claim for legal malpractice arose out of the suit in which the parties were adverse. View "Gray v. Oliver" on Justia Law