Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

by
In 2003, Daley, pregnant with twins, had twin-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS), a congenital condition involving a circulation abnormality in twins growing from a single placenta. Standard therapy for TTTS in the U.S. was amnioreduction, which removes amniotic fluid from the recipient fetus by inserting a needle into the amniotic sac. Daley underwent amnioreduction in Utah, but it was unsuccessful. Daley agreed to participate in an institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) clinical trial. The University of Utah conducted the formal informed consent process; Daley signed a consent form. Daley contends that the subsequent performance of open fetal surgery on study patients violated NIH protocol, the consent forms, and UCSF hospital policy. Ultimately, neither twin survived. About 11 years later, Daley saw a Facebook posting by her current attorneys, seeking mothers who participated in the NIH TTTS trial. Daley filed suit, alleging medical battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, claiming she had consented to a percutaneous surgery (with access to the organs established by a needle puncture), but defendants performed an open laparotomy and open hysterotomy, procedures to which she did not consent. The trial court dismissed her case as time-barred. The court of appeal reversed, concluding that the discovery rule applies to medical battery claims. View "Daley v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

by
This case arose out of an allegedly negligent surgery performed on real party in interest Jamie Harper at the Modoc Medical Center. Harper did not present a claim to petitioner Last Frontier Healthcare District, doing business as the Modoc Medical Center (Last Frontier), within a year of her surgery. Respondent superior court originally granted Harper’s petition for relief from the claim presentation requirement based in part on its erroneous conclusion that Harper’s giving notice of her intent to sue extended the time to file her application for leave to present a late claim with Last Frontier. Last Frontier filed a petition for writ of mandate and/or prohibition with the Court of Appeal to challenge the superior court's order. The Court of Appeal issued an alternative writ and the trial court responded by issuing a new order properly denying Harper’s petition for relief from the claim presentation requirement: "Giving notice of an intent to file a medical malpractice action under Code of Civil Procedure section 364 does not alter the jurisdictional deadlines underlying an application for relief from the Government Claims Act requirement of presenting a timely claim to a public entity before bringing an action for damages against it." The Court of Appeal denied Last Frontier's petition for mandamus relief because the relief requested was no longer needed. View "Last Frontier Healthcare Dist. v. Superior Ct." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff worked as an anesthesiologist at the hospital, beginning in 1991. In 2011, the California Department of Public Health conducted an unannounced “medication error reduction plan” survey at the hospital, found that Plaintiff was responsible for numerous deficiencies regarding the use of the drug droperidol and that the deficiencies “placed patients at risk for undue adverse medical consequences,” and declared that the hospital was in “immediate jeopardy.” The medical group that is responsible for providing the hospital with physicians agreed to remove Plaintiff from the anesthesia schedule pending further investigation. Plaintiff went through required remediation, returned to work, and continued to improperly use the drug. The practice group terminated his “staff privileges, membership, or employment” with the hospital “based on a medical disciplinary cause or reason” without giving prior notice and a hearing under Business and Professions Code section 809. The trial court awarded Plaintiff damages. The court of appeal affirmed. A hospital may not avoid its obligation to provide notice and a hearing before terminating a doctor’s ability to practice in the hospital for jeopardizing the quality of patient care, by directing the medical group employing the doctor to refuse to assign the doctor to the hospital View "Economy v. Sutter East Bay Hospitals" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of defendant's motion for summary judgment in an action alleging that defendant, an orthopedic surgeon, committed medical malpractice in connection with his treatment of plaintiff's fractured wrist. The court held that the inferences plaintiff suggested could not reasonably be derived from a barebones statement that defendant's treatment caused plaintiff's further deformity. Therefore, plaintiff failed to present admissible evidence to controvert defendant's evidence that causation could not be established. View "Fernandez v. Alexander" on Justia Law

by
The Board of Directors (the Board) of Bear Valley Community Hospital (Bear Valley) refused to promote Dr. Robert O. Powell from provisional to active staff membership and reappointment to Bear Valley's medical staff. Dr. Powell appealed the superior court judgment denying his petition for writ of mandate to void the Board's decision and for reinstatement of his medical staff privileges. Dr. Powell practiced medicine in both Texas and California as a general surgeon. In 2000, the medical executive committee of Brownwood Regional Medical Center (Brownwood), in Texas, found that Dr. Powell failed to advise a young boy's parents that he severed the boy's vas deferens during a hernia procedure or of the ensuing implications. Further, the committee found that Dr. Powell falsely represented to Brownwood's medical staff, on at least two occasions, that he fully disclosed the circumstances to the parents, behavior which the committee considered to be dishonest, obstructive, and which prevented appropriate follow-up care. Based on the committee's findings, Brownwood terminated Dr. Powell's staff membership and clinical privileges. In subsequent years, Dr. Powell obtained staff privileges at other medical facilities. In October 2011, Dr. Powell applied for appointment to the medical staff at Bear Valley. On his initial application form, Dr. Powell was given an opportunity to disclose whether his clinical privileges had ever been revoked by any medical facility. In administrative hearings generated by the Bear Valley Board’s decision, there was a revelation that Dr. Powell had not been completely forthcoming about the Brownwood termination, and alleged the doctor mislead the judicial review committee (“JRC”) about the circumstances leading to that termination. Under Bear Valley's bylaws, Dr. Powell had the right to an administrative appeal of the JRC's decision; he chose, however, to bypass an administrative appeal and directly petition the superior court for a writ of mandamus. In superior court, Dr. Powell filed a petition for writ of mandate under Code of Civil Procedure sections 1094.5 and 1094.6, seeking to void the JRC's/Board's decision and to have his medical privileges reinstated. The trial court denied the petition, and this appeal followed. On appeal of the superior court’s denial, Dr. Powell argued he was entitled to a hearing before the lapse of his provisional staff privileges: that the Board surreptitiously terminated his staff privileges, presumably for a medical disciplinary cause, by allowing his privileges to lapse and failing to act. The Court of Appeal determined the Bear Valley Board had little to no insight into the true circumstances of Dr. Powell’s termination at Brownwood or the extent of his misrepresentations, thus the Board properly exercised independent judgment based on the information presented. In summary, the Court of Appeal concluded Bear Valley provided Dr. Powell a fair procedure in denying his request for active staff privileges and reappointment to the medical staff. View "Powell v. Bear Valley Community Hospital" on Justia Law

by
In November 2013, Vincent Selvidge died of a heart attack. His surviving wife and children (plaintiffs) sought to sue defendant, a physician who treated Selvidge, for medical malpractice. Plaintiffs filed their suit on January 28, 2015; 85 days after the one-year statute of limitations to bring a medical malpractice claim had expired. Defendant moved for summary judgment on the ground that the suit was untimely. Plaintiffs claimed they were entitled to tolling of the limitation period for 90 days pursuant to section 364 because they provided notice to defendant on October 24, 2014, of their intention to sue him. By their reasoning, the statute of limitations did not expire until February 2, 2015, and their suit was timely. To prove they provided notice to defendant, plaintiffs submitted a declaration from the legal assistant to plaintiffs’ attorney, who mailed the notice of intent to a Southern California address listed for defendant on the medical board’s Web site. She also called the facility in Rancho Cordova where defendant had treated Selvidge and learned defendant was no longer an employee. Although the legal assistant declared that the notice was not returned as undelivered, she did not send the letter by certified mail or prepare a proof of service. Defendant claimed to have never received the notice of intent. The address he provided to the medical board, and to which the letter was mailed, was not defendant’s residence but an address he used for billing purposes. The address was owned by a business service company that received mail on behalf of defendant and his medical corporation, to which he was the sole employee. In October of 2014, defendant estimated he checked his mailbox at the address he provided to the medical board once or twice a month. The trial court granted defendant’s summary judgment motion, finding that because defendant did not have actual notice of plaintiffs’ intention to file an action against him, plaintiffs were required to comply with the mailing provisions found in Code Civ. Proc. section 1013(a). The issue this appeal presented for the Court of Appeal's review was whether mailing a notice of intent to file an action to a physician’s address of record with the Medical Board of California provided adequate notification of a potential medical malpractice suit under the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act. The Court held that it did, and accordingly reversed the trial court’s determination to the contrary. View "Selvidge v. Tang" on Justia Law

by
The Department moved to determine the amount of a Medi-Cal lien on the settlement of plaintiff's medical malpractice action. The Court of Appeal reduced the trial court's determination of the amount of the lien by 25 percent for statutory attorney fees. The court held that plaintiff's claim that the trial court erred in not valuing his noneconomic damages at $2.5 million was unsupportable. The court reasoned that crediting plaintiff with more in noneconomic damages than he could possibly have recovered was not a rational approach required by the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services v. Ahlborn, 547 U.S. 268. The court rejected the remaining claims and affirmed in all other respects. View "Martinez v. Department of Health Care Services" on Justia Law

by
Dr. Erdle was arrested for possession of cocaine. He successfully completed drug treatment under a deferred entry of judgment program. Before completion of his drug program and dismissal of his criminal matter, the Medical Board filed an accusation. Erdle argued that he could not be disciplined because the action was based entirely on information obtained from his arrest record. Penal Code 1000.4 provides that “[a] record pertaining to an arrest resulting in successful completion of a pretrial diversion program shall not ... be used in any way that could result in the denial of any employment, benefit, license, or certificate.” Business and Professions Code section 492, however, states: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, successful completion of any diversion program under the Penal Code . . . shall not prohibit" disciplinary action by specific agencies, "notwithstanding that evidence of that misconduct may be" in an arrest record. The ALJ concluded that section 492 permits discipline but that arrest records should not be permitted at the hearing; that testimony by the arresting officer was allowable; and that cause for discipline existed. The court of appeal held that section 492 creates a blanket exemption from the restrictions contained in section 1000.4 for licensing decisions made by the specified healing arts agencies. View "Medical Board of California v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

by
While hospitalized after giving birth, Kumari fell and broke her shoulder. Four months later, Kumari sent ValleyCare Health System a detailed letter describing her injury and the basis for her “medical negligence” claim. Kumari requested $240,000 and stated she would “move to the court” if she did not receive a check within 20 days. ValleyCare denied Kumari’s claim. More than a year after her injury, Kumari and her husband sued, alleging medical negligence and loss of consortium. The court granted ValleyCare summary judgment, concluding Kumari’s letter constituted a notice of intent to sue pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 364, which precludes a plaintiff from filing a professional negligence action against a health care provider unless the plaintiff has given that provider 90 days notice of the intention to commence the action. No particular form of notice is required; subdivision (d) tolls the statute of limitations for 90 days if the notice is served within the last 90 days of the one-year limitations period. The court of appeal affirmed that the complaint was time-barred, rejecting plaintiffs’ claim that an author’s subjective motivation for writing a letter to a health care provider is relevant when determining whether that letter is a notice of intent to sue under section 364. View "Kumari v. Hospital Committee for Livermore-Pleasanton Areas" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs Nancy Brenner, individually and in her representative capacity as representative of the estate of Dale Brenner, and Zach Brenner, individually, appealed judgments entered in favor of defendants Universal Health Services of Rancho Springs, Inc., doing business as Southwest Healthcare System - Inland Valley Medical Center (UHS) and Dr. Young H. Lee, M.D. (Dr. Lee or Lee). Dale Brenner, Nancy's husband and Zach's father, was a patient at the Inland Valley Medical Center for approximately 23 days after he suffered a stroke a few hours after arriving at the emergency department of the hospital. He was eventually transferred to another medical facility, where he later died. Approximately a year after Dale Brenner's death, the plaintiffs sued UHS, Lee, and additional defendants, asserting causes of action for wrongful death based on medical negligence; retaliation; and elder abuse. Lee and UHS moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. On appeal, the plaintiffs contended the trial court erroneously granted summary judgment in favor of UHS and Lee. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgments. View "Brenner v. Universal Health etc." on Justia Law