Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice
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In 2014, plaintiff-respondent Keith Burchell underwent what was supposed to be a simple, outpatient procedure to remove a small mass in his scrotum for testing. His surgeon, Dr. Gary Barker, discovered that the mass was more extensive than expected, believing the mass was malignant. Without consulting either Burchell (who was under anesthesia) or the person Burchell had designated as his medical proxy, Barker removed the mass from both the scrotum and the penis, a different and substantially more invasive procedure than had been contemplated. Burchell suffered serious side effects, some of which are permanent and irreversible. The mass turned out to be benign. Burchell brought suit, alleging professional negligence and medical battery. A jury returned a verdict for Burchell on both causes of action, awarding him $4 million in past noneconomic damages and $5.25 million in future noneconomic damages against Dr. Barker and defendant-appellant Faculty Physicians & Surgeons of the Loma Linda University School of Medicine (FPS). On appeal, FPS argued the award of noneconomic damages should have been reduced to the $250,000 limit on such damages in “any action for injury against a health care provider based on professional negligence” provided by Civil Code section 3333.2(a), part of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 (MICRA). In the alternative, FPS argued the award of noneconomic damages was excessive and the product of improper argument by Burchell’s counsel, so the Court of Appeal should reverse and remand for new trial unless Burchell accepts a reduction of the award to an amount we deem reasonable. Finally, FPS argued Burchell’s offer to compromise pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 998 was invalid, so the award of expert witness fees and prejudgment interest should also be reversed. After review, the Court of Appeal rejected FPS' first two arguments, but concurred that Burchell’s section 998 offer was invalid, and therefore reversed the award of expert witness fees and prejudgment interest. View "Burchell v. Faculty Physicians & Surgeons etc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Christi McAlpine filed a medical malpractice action against defendant Dr. Daniel Norman for injuries she suffered as a result of colonoscopies performed on her in 2015. In 2018, with trial approaching, Norman filed a summary judgment motion, supported by a declaration from an expert who reviewed McAlpine’s medical records, and opined that Norman’s actions were within the standard of care. McAlpine opposed the motion, but did not submit a competing expert opinion. While the summary judgment motion was pending, McAlpine sought leave to amend her complaint. The trial court denied leave to amend and granted summary judgment. McAlpine appealed the grant of summary judgment and the order denying her motion for leave to amend, arguing that the expert declaration presented in support of the motion for summary judgment was conclusory and insufficient to meet the initial burden for summary judgment. She also argued the trial court abused its discretion in denying her request for leave to amend. The Court of Appeal found no abuse of discretion in the order denying leave to amend, but agreed the trial court improperly granted summary judgment based on an expert opinion unsupported by factual detail or reasoned explanation. Accordingly, the Court reversed the grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "McAlpine v. Norman" 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 Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the hospital in an action brought by the family of an emergency room patient who was released from the hospital and died eight hours later of "acute dissection of aorta."The court held that no evidence showed that the nursing staff caused or contributed to the patient's death; no evidence showed the hospital was negligent in the selection and retention of the two emergency room doctors who treated the patient; and the evidence conclusively established the emergency room doctors were not the ostensible agents of the hospital. View "Wicks v. Antelope Valley Healthcare District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and her husband filed a medical malpractice action against Doctors Medical and others, including Defendant Remington, after plaintiff became paralyzed following carpel tunnel surgery. Remington performed the spinal decompression surgery on plaintiff after she became paralyzed, but she did not recover a substantial amount of function following the surgery.The Court of Appeal held that the trial court properly granted the motion for a new trial and affirmed the judgment. The court agreed with the trial court that granting summary judgment in favor of Remington on statute of limitations grounds constituted an error of law. The court wrote that the persistence of plaintiff's symptoms was not necessarily an appreciable manifestation of harm from Remington's treatment. The court held that there is a factual dispute regarding when plaintiff experienced appreciable harm that would have caused a reasonable person to be suspicious of Remington's wrongdoing. View "Brewer v. Remington" on Justia Law

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In this medical malpractice action against an anesthesiologist, the jury found that defendant breached the duty of care she owed plaintiff, but that the breach did not cause plaintiff's paralysis. On appeal, plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in denying the Batson/Wheeler motion the trial court made sua sponte after defendant's attorney exercised peremptory challenges to six Hispanic prospective jurors out of his seven total challenges.The Court of Appeal agreed with plaintiff that the trial court erred in not requiring defense counsel to offer nondiscriminatory reasons for his first four challenges that formed the basis of the trial court's prima facie finding of racial bias. Therefore, the court reversed for the limited purpose of conducting the second and third steps of the Batson/Wheeler inquiry as to all six challenged Hispanic jurors. The court held that the prohibition against the exercise of peremptory challenges to exclude prospective jurors on the basis of race or other group bias applies to civil as well as criminal cases. The court remanded with instructions. The court affirmed as to plaintiff's claim of error regarding the trial court's exclusion of evidence of defendant's dishonesty; motion to exclude expert testimony; and assertion that defense counsel's closing argument was improper. View "Unzueta v. Akopyan" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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