Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice
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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

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Plaintiff Phyllis Paetsch was referred to Spokane Dermatology Clinic for Botox injections to smooth facial wrinkles. Paetsch had never heard of the clinic, had never been there before, and was not aware of the staff or medical reputation of the clinic. She made an appointment for treatment and was told that her appointment would be with Dan Rhoads. Spokane Dermatology Clinic is a professional services company owned solely by Dr. William Werschler. The clinic also employed another doctor as a dermatologist and three certified physician's assistants (PA-Cs), one of which was Dan Rhoads. Paetsch completed some medical history and patient profile forms, signed them, then was escorted to her appointment room. She was told "the doctor" would be in soon. Shortly thereafter, a man in scrubs entered and introduced himself as "Dan." Rhoads injected Paetsch with both Botox and Restylane. He injected Restylane into Paetsch's forehead, not knowing that the federal Food and Drug Administration did not approve the use of Restylane in the forehead as it increased the risk of necrosis. While initially pleased with the results, Paetsch later developed a headache, the symptoms of which worsened. Rhoads misdiagnosed her condition as an infection and prescribed antibiotics and anti-inflammatories to control it. These treatments were ineffective, and Paetsch's condition continued to deteriorate. Paetsch sought treatment from her primary care provider. The clinic properly diagnosed the condition as necrosis caused by the use of Restylane in the forehead; the Restylane had expanded throughout the forehead, cutting off the only flow of blood to the skin. This diagnosis was too late to treat the condition, and the provider could only scrape the dead tissue from Paetsch's face. The necrosis resulted in deep, permanent scarring to Paetsch's forehead. Paetsch filed suit against Spokane Dermatology Clinic and against Dr. Werschler personally for the failure to obtain her informed consent to treatment and for medical malpractice by Dr. Werschler and Dan Rhoads. At trial, Paetsch presented evidence that Dr. Werschler presented himself as her doctor through the use of consent forms, that he owed her a duty of care, and that he breached that duty. Paetsch also presented evidence that as a PA-C, Rhoads was an agent of the physician and that Dr. Werschler's failure to adequately supervise Rhoads breached the standard of care. After the close of evidence, the trial court granted Dr. Werschler's motion for judgment as a matter of law, dismissing Dr. Werschler from personal liability on the ground that no jury could find that he breached a duty to Paetsch under the evidence. Following this motion, Spokane Dermatology Clinic was the only remaining named defendant. Despite dismissing Dr. Werschler personally, the court instructed the jury that the clinic could be held liable for Dr. Werschler's medical negligence, as he was an employee of Spokane Dermatology Clinic. The jury was never told that Dr. Werschler was dismissed as a defendant, and the majority of the jury instructions remained unchanged. The jury returned a verdict in favor of defendants, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the jury instructions allowed Paetsch to argue her theory of the case and the jury found that the defendant was not negligent. View "Paetsch v. Spokane Dermatology Clinic, PS" on Justia Law

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This is a consolidated case of two medical malpractice suits. In each case, the trial judge gave the jury instruction on a physician's exercise of judgment, similar to 6 Washington Practice: Washington Pattern Jury Instructions: Civil105.08 (6th ed. 2012) (WPI) was given. Both juries found in favor of the defendants and both plaintiffs appealed. After review of both cases, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's use of the exercise of judgment jury instruction. Furthermore, the Court held that evidence of consciously ruling out other diagnoses is not required; a defendant need only produce sufficient evidence of use of clinical judgment in diagnosis or treatment to satisfy a trial judge that the instruction is appropriate. "We reaffirm that this instruction is supported in Washington law and has not been shown to be incorrect or harmful." View "Fergen v. Sestero" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff-patient presented expert testimony in this medical malpractice case establishing that following the patient's heart surgery, the surgeons in charge of the patient's postoperative recovery failed to meet their standard of care, which required appropriately monitoring the patient for "compartment syndrome," a known possible complication following such surgery, and also failed to direct members of the hospital's care team treating the patient during his recovery to so monitor. The jury found for plaintiff but the trial court overturned the verdict, reasoning that plaintiff failed to prove that the standard of care had been breached by any one individual member of the hospital's team. The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court, reasoning that because plaintiff failed to prove negligence by a particular individual, "[he] failed to prove the standard of care for the relevant 'health care provider."' The primary issue in this medical malpractice case is whether the trial court properly granted the defendant hospital's postverdict motion for judgment as a matter of law. Considering the inferences and the evidence presented in plaintiff's favor, the Supreme Court concluded plaintiff met his burden under chapter 7.70 RCW to show that identified health care providers employed by the hospital failed to meet the applicable standard of care in monitoring his postoperation recovery for compartment syndrome, resulting in the untimely diagnosis of that syndrome and proximately causing injury to plaintiff by failure to timely treat that complication. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the trial court with direction to reinstate the jury verdict in favor of plaintiff. View "Grove v. Peacehealth St. Joseph Hosp." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Jaryd Schroeder sought treatment from the respondents, Dr. Steven Weighall and Columbia Basin Imaging. Schroeder was nine years old at the time and suffered from headaches, nausea, dizziness, weakness in his legs, and double vision. He underwent an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), which Weighall reviewed and found to be normal. Schroeder's symptoms persisted. On either November 9 or 19, 2009, when he was 17, Schroeder underwent another MRI. This time the radiologist who reviewed the image found an Arnold Chiari Type I Malformation. On January 13, 2011, the day before his 19th birthday, Schroeder filed a medical malpractice action against Weighall, Columbia Basin Imaging, PC, and a third party subsequently dismissed by stipulation. Weighall asserted that the action was barred by the statute of limitations codified at RCW 4.16.350 and subject to the minority tolling exemption codified at RCW 4.16.190(2). Schroeder and his mother discovered Weighall's alleged omission November 2009 when Schroeder was still a minor. If not for RCW 4.16.190(2), the one-year statute of limitations applicable to his claim would have tolled until his 18th birthday. The ultimate issue before the Supreme Court was the constitutionality of RCW 4. 16. 190(2). Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that RCW 4.16.190(2) violated article I, section 12 of the Washington State Constitution, and therefore reversed the trial court's summary judgment order dismissing Schroeder's medical malpractice action. View "Schroeder v. Weighall" on Justia Law

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Christiana Anaya suffered from uncontrolled diabetes, which left her susceptible to serious infections. She went to the Toppenish Community Hospital with a urinary tract infection. Blood test results revealed Ms. Anaya had a yeast infection. The lab called Ms. Anaya's primary care facility (the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic) where Respondent Dr. Mark Sauerwein was covering for Ms. Anaya's usual provider. Sauerwein was concerned about the lab results. Due to the serious nature of a blood infection, the doctor decided that if Ms. Anaya was feeling ill, she should come in immediately for treatment. If she was feeling better, it was more likely that the test result was a false positive, a common occurrence in microbiology labs. Dr. Sauerwein used the complete clinical picture available to him to conclude that the lab result was a false positive resulting from contamination but had the nurse contact Mrs. Anaya to move her next appointment up to the following week. Dr. Sauerwein did not tell Mrs. Anaya about the test result. The lab positively identified candida glabrata as the yeast in Ms. Anaya's blood. An infection of glabrata in the blood is serious. Lab microbiologists entered this information into Ms. Anaya's medical record but did not notify Dr. Sauerwein, the Clinic, or anyone else about the positive test result. Before Ms. Anaya's next visit to the Clinic, her condition worsened. Ms. Anaya went to Yakima Memorial Hospital where she was prescribed amphotericin B, which is highly toxic to the kidneys. Given the compromised state of Ms. Anaya's kidneys from her diabetes, a health care provider would not normally prescribe amphotericin B until positively identifying glabrata. Unfortunately, the amphotericin B treatment came too late to stop the infection from spreading to the internal organs. Ms. Anaya died at age 32 of cardiac arrest, deprivation of oxygen to the brain, and fungal sepsis; all stemming from type II diabetes mellitus. Mr. Anaya Gomez, as personal representative of Ms. Anaya's estate, filed suit against Dr. Sauerwein and the Clinic for malpractice. Three weeks before the jury trial, the estate moved to add a claim for failure to obtain informed consent. At the close of Mr. Anaya's case, the defense moved for judgment as a matter of law on the informed consent claim. The trial judge granted the motion and dismissed the informed consent claim, arguing that case law precluded the claim in misdiagnosis cases. The jury then found Dr. Sauerwein did not breach any duty owed to Ms. Anaya. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded that when a health care provider rules out a particular diagnosis based on the patient's clinical condition-including test results, medical history, presentation upon physical examination, and any other circumstances surrounding the patient's condition that are available to the provider the provider may not be liable for informed consent claims arising from the ruled out diagnosis. The Court affirmed the appellate court, which affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Gomez v. Sauerwein" on Justia Law

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The King County Superior Court relied on "Waples v. Yi," (234 P.3d 187 (2010)) in invalidating RCW 7.70.100(1) as applied to lawsuits against the State, including governmental agencies such as Harborview Medical Center. This case stemmed from a paragliding accident Petitioner Glen McDevitt suffered, for which he underwent surgery at Harborview. Petitioner sued Harborview for malpractice in relation to his treatment. Harborview moved for summary judgment based on the fact that Petitioner failed to comply with the 90 day presuit notice requirement of RCW 7.70.100(1). Harborview requested that Petitioner's lawsuit be dismissed with prejudice. In response, Petitioner argued that our decision in "Waples" invalidated the presuit notice requirement against both private and public defendants. Harborview then argued that the Supreme Court did not have occasion to consider the constitutional validity of the presuit notice requirement as applied to lawsuits against the State. The King County Superior Court denied Harborview’s motion for summary judgment. Harborview then appealed to the Supreme Court. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court on the grounds that the legislature could establish conditions precedent, including presuit notice requirements, to inform the State of future cost and delay associated with court resolution of an issue. "[W]e hold that the presuit notice requirement of RCW 7.70.100(1) as applied to the State is a constitutionally valid statutory precondition for suit against the State because it was adopted by the legislature as provided in article II, section 26 of the Washington Constitution. View "McDevitt v. Harborview Med. Ctr." on Justia Law

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This interlocutory appeal concerned a discovery dispute involving birth injuries sustained by Jordan Gallinat at Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington, in 1996. In June 2009, Douglas Fellows, as litigation guardian for Gallinat, filed a complaint alleging medical negligence and corporate negligence against Dr. Daniel Moynihan, Dr. Kathleen Hutchinson, and the Center. The trial court determined that the Center's credentialing, privileging, and personnel records for the doctors were protected from disclosure under the quality improvement privilege (RCW 70.41.200(3)). This case also implicated the applicability of the peer review privilege codified in RCW 4.24.250. After the Court of Appeals denied discretionary review, the Supreme Court court granted petition for review. Because the Court found that the trial court erred in concluding that no other information or records need be disclosed, it remanded the case for in camera review of the records sought by Fellows. View "Fellows v. Moynihan" on Justia Law

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In a medical malpractice case, Louis Diaz sought a new trial because the trial court admitted evidence that he settled before trial with two of the defendants. Diaz contended that the trial court misapplied RCW 7.70.080 in ruling the evidence admissible. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed, concluding that: (1) RCW 7.70.080 permitted only a settling health care provider, not the nonsettling defendants, to introduce evidence of the settlement; (2) to the extent it dealt with settlements, RCW 7.70.080 was superseded by subsequent statutes that treat settlements inconsistently with subsection .080; and (3) the trial court's reading of RCW 7.70.080 would have violated the separation of powers doctrine. However, having found error, the Supreme Court held that the error was harmless because no settlement evidence was admitted at trial, the issue was a minor feature of a fairly lengthy trial, and the court gave a curative instruction at Diaz's request, which was presumed the jury followed. View "Diaz v. Washington" on Justia Law

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Ron Teter was diagnosed with a tumor in his right kidney. Urologist Dr. Andrew Deck, assisted by Dr. David Lauter, performed surgery to remove Teter’s kidney. Immediately after surgery, Teter developed a condition in which increased pressure in one compartment of the body that compromised the tissues in that compartment. Even after a procedure to relieve the pressure, Teter continued to suffer from pain in his left leg that interfered with his ability to stand for long periods of time and with his ability to engage in his usual activities. Teter and his wife (the Teters) sued Drs. Deck and Lauter for negligence. The Teters eventually settled with Dr. Lauter and stipulated to his dismissal as a defendant. The parties encountered difficulties in preparing for trial for their case against Dr. Deck. Neither the Teters nor Dr. Deck complied completely with discovery deadlines and the trial court granted motions to compel by both sides. The case was reassigned to a different judge, who made a record of his strict requirements of conducting the trial in his court. Defense counsel was routinely cautioned about her conduct during trial, and the judge noted his displeasure with both parties' "disregard for protocol and rules of evidence." The issue on appeal before the Supreme Court involved the court's exclusion of a key medical witness as sanction for the parties' conduct during trial. The Court concluded the pretrial motions judge excluded the expert without making the required findings that the violation was willful and prejudicial and could be imposed only after explicitly considering less severe sanctions. When the trial judge was reassigned to this case, he granted a new trial on the ground that the exclusion was a prejudicial error of law, and he was "well within his discretion in granting the new trial." The Supreme Court found that the facts of this case "amply" supported the ruling. View "Teter v. Deck" on Justia Law