Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Health Law
Pacheco v. United States
Plaintiff Yesenia Pacheco sought contraception from Neighborcare Health, a federally funded community health center, “to prevent the birth of an unwanted child.” The method Pacheco and her care providers selected was Depo-Provera, “a highly effective” injectable contraceptive medication that “must be administered on a timely basis every eleven to thirteen weeks.” Pacheco received regular Depo-Provera injections from December 2009 until July 2011. On September 30, 2011 for her next scheduled appointment, a medical assistant “mistakenly injected [Pacheco] with a flu vaccine instead.” The medical assistant “failed to confirm why Ms. Pacheco was there, to document consent to the flu vaccine or a change in the orders, or to advise Ms. Pacheco of the side effects of a flu shot and/or the consequences of skipping a Depo-Provera injection.” Neighborcare did not inform Pacheco of its mistake until December 2011, when she sought an appointment for her next Depo-Provera injection. At that time, Neighborcare asked Pacheco to come to the clinic for a pregnancy test, which was positive. Plaintiff S.L.P. was born to Pacheco and plaintiff Luis Lemus, diagnosed with perisylvian polymicrogyria (PMG), a congenital defect resulting in permanent disabilities. In March 2017, Pacheco, Lemus, and S.L.P. filed an amended complaint against the United States pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) at the federal district court for the Western District of Washington, seeking damages relating to Pacheco’s pregnancy and S.L.P.’s PMG. The federal district court certified a question of law to the Washington Supreme Court, asking whether a patient who received negligent reproductive health care could recover all damages proximately caused by the provider’s negligence, regardless of the patient’s reason for seeking care. To this, the Supreme Court answered yes: if any Washington health care provider breaches their duty “to follow the accepted standard of care,” then damages proximately caused by the provider’s negligence may be recovered upon the necessary factual findings. Where negligent contraceptive care results in the birth of a child, and that child has a congenital defect, the provider may be liable for damages relating to the child’s condition. Such liability does not require proof that the child was at a known, heightened risk for developing congenital defects or that the patient sought contraception for the specific purpose of preventing the birth of a child with congenital defects. View "Pacheco v. United States" on Justia Law
Davies v. MultiCare Health Sys.
This case addressed the difference between two claims that arose from the same accident and that were based on the same medical care: a medical malpractice claim and a failure to secure informed consent claim. In 2017, Mari Davies was in a single-car rollover accident. When Davies arrived at the E.R. she had hypertension, high blood pressure, left shoulder pain, neck pain, chest pain, abdominal pain, a headache, and some tingling in her left arm. She also had preexisting kidney stones, diverticulosis, pneumonia, and diabetes. Dr. Michael Hirsig evaluated her as soon as she arrived in the E.R.: consulted with a neurosurgeon, ordered tests and prescribed medicines. Dr. Hirsig diagnosed Davies with a stable cervical spine fracture. He determined that she had no “neurological symptoms.” Davies visited her primary care provider the next day. While in his office, Davies exhibited stroke symptoms. She was immediately transported to the E.R. at Providence St. Peter Hospital. She had, indeed, suffered a stroke. It was later determined Davies’ stroke was caused by a vertebral artery dissection (VAD) that occurred at the time of the accident. A VAD is typically detected by a computed tomography angiography (CTA) scan. It was undisputed that the E.R. doctor who treated Davies when she first presented to the hospital, did not order a CTA scan. Davies filed suit against MultiCare Health System, the parent corporation of Good Samaritan Hospital, alleging (1) medical negligence, (2) failure to obtain informed consent, and (3) corporate negligence. On cross motions for partial summary judgment, the trial court dismissed Davies’ informed consent claim. The trial court found no material factual dispute related to the informed consent claim and dismissed it as unsupported by the law. Davies’ medical negligence claims proceeded to trial. The jury found that none of the health care provider defendants were negligent. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding facts in the record sufficient to support an informed consent claim. The Washington Supreme Court adhered to prior decisions holding that in general, a patient cannot bring an informed consent claim where, as here, the physician ruled out the undiagnosed condition entirely. View "Davies v. MultiCare Health Sys." on Justia Law
Johnson v. Inslee
Petitioners Governor Jay Inslee, the State of Washington, the Washington Department of Corrections, and Cheryl Strange, secretary of the Department of Corrections, sought the Washington Supreme Court's accelerated direct discretionary review of an order of the Franklin County Superior Court denying petitioners’ motion to change venue to Thurston County Superior Court in an action brought by respondent Jeffrey Johnson challenging proclamations the governor issued requiring certain state employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 18, 2021. The merits of the underlying suit were not before the Court. In an order issued on October 11, 2021, the Court determined that mandatory venue for this action was in Thurston County Superior Court under RCW 4.12.020(2), and therefore granted petitioners’ motion for accelerated discretionary review, reversed the order of the Franklin County Superior Court, and remanded to that court with directions to grant petitioners’ motion to change venue without delay. In this opinion, the Court explained the reasoning underlying its order. View "Johnson v. Inslee" on Justia Law
In re Pers. Restraint of Williams
In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, petitioner Robert Williams filed a personal restraint petition (PRP) arguing that the conditions of his confinement constituted cruel punishment in violation of the state and federal constitutions. While confined in Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities, Williams asked the Washington Supreme Court to order his sentence be served in home confinement at his sister’s home in Florida until COVID-19 no longer posed a threat to him. The Supreme Court issued an order recognizing that article I, section 14 of the Washington Constitution was more protective than the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution regarding conditions of confinement and that Williams’s then current conditions of confinement were cruel under the state constitution: specifically, the lack of reasonable access to bathroom facilities and running water, as well as DOC’s failure to provide Williams with appropriate assistance in light of his physical disabilities. The Court granted Williams’s PRP and directed DOC to remedy those conditions or to release Williams. DOC later reported that it had complied with this court’s order and had placed Williams in a housing unit designed for assisted living care. Williams was relocated to a single cell with no roommates and a toilet and sink, and was given access to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant restrooms and a readily available medical staff, an assigned wheelchair pusher/therapy aide, and an emergency pendant allowing him to call for assistance. To this, the Supreme Court concluded these actions remedied the unconstitutional conditions and declined to order Williams’s release. By this opinion, the Supreme Court explained its reasoning underlying its grant of Williams' PRP. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Williams" on Justia Law
Turner v. Dep’t of Soc. & Health Servs.
Kent Turner suffered from multiple sclerosis (MS), which caused loss of his motor skills. When his wife, Kathy Turner, could not, due to her own health issues, provide necessary in-home assistance, Kent moved into a nursing home and then into an apartment, where he died in a fire. Kent’s estate, through Kathy Turner, sued the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and Lewis-Mason-Thurston Area Agency on Aging (LMTAAA) (the area agency on aging) with case management responsibilities for Kent’s care, for negligence and for abuse or neglect. DSHS and LMTAAA moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The trial court ruled that no special relationship was formed and only an ordinary duty of care was owed. The trial court further held that no breach occurred and causation was lacking. After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment dismissal of the claims against DSHS and LMTAAA. View "Turner v. Dep't of Soc. & Health Servs." on Justia Law
Nyman v. Hanley
Antonia Nyman was renting a backyard cottage to Dan Hanley when the COVID-19 pandemic began. She sought to evict Hanley and gave him 60 days’ notice of her intention to move into the unit herself. Due to this unprecedented pandemic, Washington Governor Jay Inslee temporarily halted most evictions, but not for landlords seeking to occupy the unit personally. A federal eviction moratorium imposed by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also temporarily halted some evictions, but not for tenants who have violated a contractual obligation (with certain specified exceptions). The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on whether Hanley violated a contractual obligation by holding over in his unit after his lease expired by its terms. Based on undisputed facts before us, the Court held that he did. "While the CDC order may be more protective than Washington’s eviction proclamation in some instances, it does not apply here. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court and lift the stay of the writ of restitution." View "Nyman v. Hanley" on Justia Law
Hermanson v. Multicare Health Sys., Inc.
The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review related to the boundaries of the corporate attorney-client privilege and how it operated when in conflict with a plaintiff’s physician-patient privilege. In 2015, Doug Hermanson sideswiped an unoccupied vehicle and crashed into a utility pole. Hermanson was transported to Tacoma General Hospital, which was owned by MultiCare Health System Inc. Hermanson was treated by several MultiCare employees, including two nurses and a crisis intervention social worker. However, the physician who treated Hermanson, Dr. Patterson, was an independent contractor of MultiCare pursuant to a signed agreement between MultiCare and Trauma Trust, his employer. Trauma Trust was created by MultiCare; Dr. Patterson had his own office at Tacoma General Hospital and was expected to abide by MultiCare’s policies and procedures. During Hermanson’s treatment, an unidentified person at Tacoma General Hospital conducted a blood test on Hermanson that showed a high blood alcohol level. As a result, someone reported this information to the police, and the police charged Hermanson with first degree negligent driving and hit and run of an unattended vehicle. Based on this disclosure of his blood alcohol results, Hermanson sued MultiCare and multiple unidentified parties for negligence, defamation/false light, false imprisonment, violation of Hermanson’s physician-patient privilege, and unauthorized disclosure of Hermanson's confidential health information. MultiCare retained counsel to jointly represent MultiCare, Dr. Patterson, and Trauma Trust, reasoning that while Dr. Patterson and Trauma Trust were not identified parties, Hermanson’s initial demand letter implicated both parties. Hermanson objected to this joint representation and argued that MultiCare’s ex parte communications with Dr. Patterson violated Hermanson’s physician-patient privilege. The Supreme Court determined that Dr. Patterson still maintained a principal-agent relationship with MultiCare, and served as the "functional equivalent" of a MultiCare employee; therefore MultiCare could have ex parte communications with the doctor. The nurse and social worker privilege were "essentially identical in purpose" to the physician-patient privilege, making ex parte communications permissible between MultiCare and the nurse and social worker. View "Hermanson v. Multicare Health Sys., Inc." on Justia Law
Peacehealth St. Joseph Med. Ctr. v. Dep’t of Revenue
Petitioners PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center and PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center (PeaceHealth) argued that, under RCW 82.04.4311’s plain language, qualifying Washington hospitals were entitled to a business and occupation (B&O) tax refund and deduction on compensation they receive from any state’s Children’s Health Insurance Programs (CHIP) or Medicaid programs, not just Washington’s. Alternatively, PeaceHealth contended that by excluding compensation that qualifying Washington hospitals receive from other states’ CHIP and Medicaid programs, the Washington Department of Revenue (Department) unlawfully penalized those hospitals that served out-of-state patients, thus violating the dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. In holding that RCW 82.04.4311’s deduction excluded compensation that qualifying hospitals receive from other states’ CHIP and Medicaid programs, the Court of Appeals used the "series-qualifier" rule of statutory construction in lieu of the last antecedent rule. To this, the Washington Supreme Court held the Court of Appeals properly applied the series-qualifier rule to delimit the scope of RCW 82.04.4311’s deduction, thus affirming the Court of Appeals’ reasoning on this issue. Additionally, because the Supreme Court found that RCW 82.04.4311 supported a traditional government function without any differential treatment favoring local private entities over similar out-of-state interests, the Supreme Court held that RCW 82.04.4311 was constitutional under the government function exemption to the dormant Commerce Clause. View "Peacehealth St. Joseph Med. Ctr. v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law
Ehrhart v. King County
Brian Ehrhart died within days of contracting hantavirus near his Issaquah, Washington home in early 2017. His widow, Sandra Ehrhart, sued King County’s public health department, Swedish Medical Center, and an emergency room physician, arguing all three had negligently caused Brian's death. King County asserted public duty as an affirmative defense, arguing it was not liable for Brian’s death because it did not owe him any duty as an individual. Ehrhart moved for partial summary judgment asking the court to dismiss this defense and others. The trial court granted Ehrhart’s motion but conditioned its ruling on the jury finding particular facts. King County appealed, and the Washington Supreme Court accepted direct discretionary review. The issues presented were: (1) whether the trial court could properly grant summary judgment conditioned on the jury finding particular facts; and (2) whether the regulations governing King COunty's responsibility to issue health advisories created a duty owed to Brian individually as opposed to a non actionable duty owed to the public as a whole. The Supreme Court determined the trial court could not properly grant summary judgment conditioned on the jury finding particular facts; summary judgment was appropriate only when there were no genuine issues of material fact. The Court concluded King County did not owe an individualized duty to Brian, and no exception to the public duty doctrine applied in this case. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the trial court, and remanded for entry of judgment in favor of King County on its public duty doctrine defense. View "Ehrhart v. King County" on Justia Law
Strauss v. Premera Blue Cross
John and Michelle Strauss challenged the Court of Appeals decision affirming summary dismissal of their action against Premera Blue Cross, which arose out of the denial of coverage for proton beam therapy (PBT) to treat John's prostate cancer. At issue was whether the Strausses established the existence of a genuine issue of material fact regarding PBT's superiority to intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), thereby demonstrating that proton beam therapy was "medically necessary" within the meaning of their insurance contract. The Washington Supreme Court determined they did, and therefore reversed the Court of Appeals' decision, and remanded for a jury trial on the disputed facts. View "Strauss v. Premera Blue Cross" on Justia Law