Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Medical Malpractice
Magney v. Pham
The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on whether petitioners-parents waived the marital counseling privilege when they filed a claim for damages against the doctors who treated their infant son on the ground that the child was misdiagnosed with cancer. Prior to the alleged misdiagnosis, Brian and Emily Magney had engaged in and completed marital counseling. Defendant doctors sought discovery of the records, but the Magneys filed a motion for a protection order to prevent disclosure given that the records were privileged. The superior court denied the motion and ordered disclosure. analogizing the marital counseling privilege to the psychologist-client privilege, which the Court of Appeals has held is automatically waived when emotional distress is at issue. The Supreme Court reversed the superior court, holding the Magneys did not automatically waive privilege because filing a lawsuit is not one of the enumerated exceptions under the "marital counseling" privilege statute. The Court could not determine on the record whether the privilege was impliedly waived by the actions of the Magneys at this point in litigation. The matter was remanded to the superior court for an in camera review of the records and evidence the parties submitted to determine whether the privilege was impliedly waived. View "Magney v. Pham" on Justia Law
Grp. Health Coop. v. Coon
Group Health Cooperative (GHO) provided health insurance benefits to Nathaniel (Joel) Coon, who suffered a serious fungal infection and amputation following knee surgery at the Everett Clinic (TEC). The Coon family later settled potential negligence claims against TEC, and GHO initiated this lawsuit seeking reimbursement of its payments from the settlement proceeds. At issue before the Washington Supreme Court was whether genuine issues of material fact remained to preclude summary judgment in favor of GHO regarding whether the settlement constituted full compensation to Coon, and whether GHO suffered prejudice from the Coons’ failure to provide notice prior to finalizing the settlement. The Supreme Court concurred with the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that genuine issues of fact still remained, making summary judgment inappropriate. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Grp. Health Coop. v. Coon" on Justia Law
Banowsky v. Backstrom
Teresa Banowsky filed a claim for medical malpractice in Washington district court on the last day of the statute of limitations, seeking over $100,000. District courts could exercise jurisdiction over medical malpractice claims, but not over claims seeking over $100,000. CRLH 14A(b) directs district courts to remove or transfer cases to superior court when any party asserts a claim in excess of the district court’s jurisdiction, or seeks a remedy beyond the court’s jurisdiction. The Washington Supreme Court held CRLJ 14A(b) validly and unambiguously required the district court to transfer Banowsky’s case to superior court. View "Banowsky v. Backstrom" on Justia Law
L.M. v. Hamilton
L.M. suffered a severe injury during birth and subsequently sued Laura Hamilton, the midwife who delivered him, for negligence. Hamilton prevailed at trial. On appeal, L.M. argued the trial court erred by admitting evidence that natural forces of labor could have caused the injury and testimony from a biomechanical engineer to the same effect. L.M. argued the trial court should have excluded the evidence under Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (1923), and the testimony under ER 702. The Washington Supreme Court found that under Frye, the trial court had to exclude evidence that was not based on generally accepted science. And under ER 702, the trial court had to exclude testimony from unqualified experts and testimony that was unhelpful to the jury. L.M.'s challenge concerned the extent to which the challenged science had to be "generally accepted." And his ER 702 challenge hinged on the amount of discretion an appellate court granted a trial court under the rule. Finding the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the challenged evidence, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial and appellate courts. View "L.M. v. Hamilton" on Justia Law
Reyes v. Yakima Health Dist.
Jose Reyes died after a course of treatment for tuberculosis. Judith Reyes alleged that her husband did not have tuberculosis and that the treatment prescribed to him for that disease caused him fatal liver damage due to an undiagnosed, underlying, liver disease. Judith alleged that the Yakima Health District and Christopher Spitters, M.D., were negligent in treating Jose. A year after filing suit, her expert witness submitted an affidavit alleging as much. But because allegations of misdiagnosis without deviation from the proper standard of care was not the basis for liability, the Washington Supreme Court held that the expert witness' affidavit was insufficient to create a genuine issue of material face, and affirmed the Court of Appeals. "In so holding, we do not require talismanic words, but the words... the want of the right word makes lightning from lightening bugs." View "Reyes v. Yakima Health Dist." on Justia Law
Frausto v. Yakima HMA, LLC
The sole issue in this case was whether advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs) were per se disqualified from testifying on proximate cause in a medical negligence case. The Washington Supreme Court held that ARNPs may be qualified to testify regarding causation in a medical malpractice case if the trial court determines that the ARNP meets the threshold requirements of ER 702. The ability to independently diagnose and prescribe treatment for a particular malady was strong evidence that the expert might be qualified to discuss the cause of that same malady. The Court reversed the trial court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Frausto v. Yakima HMA, LLC" on Justia Law
Taylor v. Intuitive Surgical Inc.
In this case, a manufacturer sold a surgical device to a hospital, which credentialed some of its physicians to perform surgery with the device. The manufacturer's warnings regarding that device were at the heart of this case: whether the manufacturer owed a duty to warn the hospital that purchased the device. The manufacturer argued that since it warned the physician who performed the surgery, it had no duty to warn any other party. The Supreme Court disagreed because the doctor was often not the product purchaser. The Court found that the WPLA required manufacturers to warn purchasers about their dangerous medical devices. “Hospitals need these warnings to credential the operating physicians and to provide optimal care for patients. In this case, the trial court did not instruct the jury that the manufacturer had a duty to warn the hospital that purchased the device. Consequently, we find that the trial court erred.” View "Taylor v. Intuitive Surgical Inc." on Justia Law
Dunnington v. Virginia Mason Med. Ctr.
This case involved a medical malpractice action for a lost chance of a better outcome. The parties jointly sought direct discretionary review under RAP 2.3(b)(4), challenging two pretrial rulings: (1) whether a court should use a "but for" or "substantial factor" standard of causation in loss of chance cases; and (2) whether evidence relating to a contributory negligence defense should be excluded based on the plaintiffs failure to follow his doctor's instructions. The trial court decided that the but for standard applies and the contributory negligence defense was not appropriate in this case. "Traditional tort causation principles guide a loss of chance case." Applying those established principles, under the circumstances here, the Supreme Court concluded a but for cause analysis was appropriate, and affirmed the trial court's ruling on that issue. The Court reverse the trial court's partial summary judgment dismissing the contributory negligence defense. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Dunnington v. Virginia Mason Med. Ctr." on Justia Law
Kim v. Lakeside Adult Family Home
Ho Im Bae died from acute morphine intoxication at Lakeside Adult Family Home. Esther Kim, the personal representative of Bae's estate, brought tort claims against several individuals involved in Bae's care. The issue this appeal presented for the Supreme Court's review came from Alpha Nursing & Services Inc. and two of its nurses, who did not provide nursing services to Bae, but who were alleged to have observed signs of abuse and physical assault that should have been reported to the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and law enforcement. Specifically, the issue was whether the abuse of vulnerable adults act (AVAA) created an implied cause of action against mandated reporters who fail to report abuse. The trial court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that one of the nurses did not have a duty to report and the other nurse fulfilled her reporting duty by contacting DSHS. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals on this issue: "[t]he AVAA creates a private cause of action against mandated reporters who fail to report abuse, and genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment." A separate issue was whether the claims against one of the nurses should have been dismissed for insufficient service. The nurse, Christine Thomas, moved to Norway, and plaintiff personally served her there almost a year after filing and amended complaint and properly serving Alpha. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's denial of the nurse's motion to dismiss: "Consistent with Norway's ratification of the Hague Convention, however, the plaintiff acted with reasonable diligence in serving Thomas through Norway's designated central authority." View "Kim v. Lakeside Adult Family Home" on Justia Law
Keck v. Collins
Darla Keck filed a medical malpractice case against doctors Chad Collins, DMD, and Patrick Collins, DDS after she experienced complications following sleep apnea surgery. The Doctors moved for summary judgment, arguing she lacked a qualified medical expert who could provide testimony to establish her claim. In response to the motion, her counsel filed two timely affidavits and one untimely affidavit from her medical expert. The trial court granted a motion to strike the untimely affidavit. Considering the remaining affidavits, the court ruled that the expert did not connect his opinions to specific facts to support the contention that the Doctors' treatment fell below the standard of care. Therefore, the court granted summary judgment for the Doctors. The Court of Appeals reversed. Although it agreed that the two timely affidavits lacked sufficient factual support to defeat summary judgment, it held that the trial court should have denied the motion to strike and should have considered the third affidavit. This affidavit, the court held, contained sufficient factual support to defeat summary judgment. This case raised two issues for the Supreme Court's review on appeal of the Court of Appeals' reversal: (1) whether the trial court used the appropriate standard of review for the challenged ruling to strike untimely filed evidence submitted in response to the summary judgment motion; and (2) whether the expert's timely second affidavit showed a genuine issue for trial that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the plaintiff to defeat summary judgment. The Supreme Court held that the trial court abused its discretion for failing to consider the factors from the governing caselaw, "Burnet v. Spokane Ambulance," ( 933 P.2d 1036 (1997)), on the record before striking the evidence. The Court also held that the second, timely-filed affidavid showed a genuine issue for trial that ciould have defeated summary judgment. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed the Court of Appeals' reversal. View "Keck v. Collins" on Justia Law