Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Medical Malpractice
Kumari v. Hospital Committee for Livermore-Pleasanton Areas
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
Brenner v. Universal Health etc.
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
Cuevas v. Contra Costa County
The First Appellate District reversed an award of $9,577,000 as the present cash value of plaintiff’s future medical and rehabilitation care expenses in an action for medical malpractice against Contra County Costa, arising out of injuries plaintiff sustained at birth. The trial court erred in excluding evidence that health insurance benefits under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA),124 Stat. 119, would be available to mitigate plaintiff’s future medical costs. Plaintiff suffered irreversible brain damage in utero while his mother’s pregnancy was being managed by a physician employed by the County. Plaintiff has a very low verbal IQ and will never be a functional reader. He has serious language communication difficulties, significant behavioral problems, and has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Plaintiff’s theory at trial was that he sustained his injury because the doctor breached the applicable standard of care by failing to schedule his delivery prior to 37 weeks’ gestation. The County did not appeal with respect to liability. View "Cuevas v. Contra Costa County" on Justia Law
Samara v. Matar
Plaintiff filed suit for dental malpractice, alleging Dr. Nahigian had negligently performed oral surgery on her and Dr. Matar, as Dr. Nahigian's principal and employer, was vicariously liable for Dr. Nahigian's negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment for Dr. Nahigian and Dr. Matar. The court affirmed the grant of summary judgment for Dr. Nahigian based solely on the statute of limitations, expressly declining to reach the issue of causation. However, in regard to Dr. Matar, the court agreed with plaintiff that neither claim preclusion or issue preclusion applies in this case. Therefore, the court reversed the grant of summary judgment as to Dr. Matar and remanded for further proceedings. View "Samara v. Matar" on Justia Law
Bigler-Engler v. Breg, Inc.
This matter arose from Whitney Engler's use of a medical device, the "Polar Care 500," manufactured by Breg, Inc. (Breg) and prescribed by David Chao, M.D. Engler suffered injuries as a result of her use of the Polar Care 500, and she brought various tort claims against Chao, his medical group Oasis MSO, Inc. (Oasis), and Breg, among others. At trial, the jury considered Engler's claims for medical malpractice, design defect (under theories of negligence and strict liability), failure to warn (also under theories of negligence and strict liability), breach of fiduciary duty, intentional misrepresentation, and intentional concealment. With a few exceptions, the jury generally found in favor of Engler, and against the defendants, on these claims. The jury awarded $68,270.38 in economic compensatory damages and $5,127,950 in noneconomic compensatory damages to Engler. It allocated responsibility for Engler's harm: 50 percent to Chao, 10 percent to Oasis, and 40 percent to Breg. The jury made findings of malice, oppression, or fraud as to each defendant on at least one claim. In the punitive damages phase of trial, the jury awarded $500,000 against Chao and $7 million against Breg. The jury declined to award any punitive damages against Oasis. Breg, Chao, Oasis, and Virginia Bigler-Engler, as administrator of Engler's estate, appealed, raising numerous challenges to the judgment. In the published portions of its opinion, the Court of Appeal considered: (1) whether Engler's counsel committed prejudicial misconduct during trial; (2) whether the jury's awards of noneconomic compensatory damages and punitive damages were excessive; (3) whether the evidence supported the jury's verdict against Breg for intentional concealment in the absence of a transactional relationship between Breg and Engler (or her parents); (4) whether Oasis fell within the medical provider exception to the doctrine of strict products liability; (5) whether Breg was entitled to an instruction on the learned intermediary doctrine; (6) whether the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 (MICRA) and Proposition 51 applied to the jury's verdict; and (7) whether Engler's pretrial settlement offer under Code of Civil Procedure section 998 complied with the statute. In the unpublished portions of the opinion, the Court considered additional challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence, the trial court's jury instructions, and the trial court's evidentiary rulings. After review, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment in part, concluding the jury's verdict as to several claims was not supported by the evidence, including Engler's intentional concealment claim against Breg and her strict products liability claim against Oasis. In light of this reversal of Engler's intentional concealment claim against Breg, the jury's punitive damages award against Breg had to be reversed too. Furthermore, the Court concluded the jury's award of noneconomic compensatory damages and the jury's award of punitive damages as to Chao were indeed excessive. Those awards were reversed and remanded for a new trial unless Bigler-Engler accepted reductions in those awards to $1,300,000 and $150,000 respectively. In all other respects, the judgment was affirmed. View "Bigler-Engler v. Breg, Inc." on Justia Law
Drexler v. Petersen
Plaintiff filed a medical malpractice action against his primary care physician, neurologist, and their employer, alleging that he was misdiagnosed in regard to the cause of his headaches. The court held that, when the plaintiff in a medical malpractice action alleges the defendant health care provider misdiagnosed or failed to diagnose a preexisting disease or condition, there is no injury for purposes of Code of Civil Procedure section 340.5 until the plaintiff first experiences appreciable harm as a result of the misdiagnosis, which is when the plaintiff first becomes aware that a preexisting disease or condition has developed into a more serious one. In this case, because there are disputed issues of material fact regarding whether plaintiff discovered his injury within the meaning of section 340.5 more than one year before he filed this action, the court reversed the trial court's grant of defendants' motion for summary judgment. View "Drexler v. Petersen" on Justia Law
Bigler-Engler v. Breg, Inc.
This matter arose from Whitney Engler's use of a medical device, the Polar Care 500, that was manufactured by Breg, Inc. (Breg) and prescribed by David Chao, M.D. Engler suffered injuries as a result of her use of the Polar Care 500, and she brought various tort claims against Chao, his medical group Oasis MSO, Inc. (Oasis), and Breg, among others. The jury made findings of malice, oppression, or fraud as to each defendant on at least one claim. In the punitive damages phase of trial, the jury awarded $500,000 against Chao and $7 million against Breg. The jury declined to award any punitive damages against Oasis. Breg, Chao, Oasis, and Virginia Bigler-Engler, as administrator of Engler's estate, appeal. After careful consideration of the parties' arguments on appeal of the outcome of the trial, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment in part, concluding the jury's verdict as to several claims was not supported by the evidence, including Engler's intentional concealment claim against Breg and her strict products liability claim against Oasis. In light of this reversal of Engler's intentional concealment claim against Breg, the jury's punitive damages award against Breg had to be reversed too. The Court also concluded the jury's award of noneconomic compensatory damages and the jury's award of punitive damages as to Chao were excessive. Those awards were reversed the case remanded for a new trial unless Bigler-Engler accepted reductions in those awards to $1,300,000 and $150,000 respectively. In all other respects, the judgment was affirmed. View "Bigler-Engler v. Breg, Inc." on Justia Law
Markow v. Rosner
Plaintiff and his wife filed suit against plaintiff's pain management physician, Howard L. Rosner, M.D., and Cedars for professional negligence and loss of consortium. Rosner's treatment rendered plaintiff a quadriplegic. A jury found that both Rosner and Cedars had been negligent, but that only Rosner’s negligence had been a substantial factor in causing plaintiff's severe injuries. The jury nonetheless apportioned 40 percent of fault to Cedars, apparently on the basis of its finding that Rosner was Cedars’s ostensible agent. Both defendants appealed. The court concluded that, under the circumstances, plaintiff knew or should have known that Rosner was not Cedars’s agent where he received actual notice and was treated in a nonemergency context. Therefore, Cedars’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict should have been granted. The court also concluded that the jury's negligence finding was supported by substantial evidence; the special verdict form used in this case properly required the jury to make findings only as to ultimate facts for plaintiffs’ sole cause of action; the trial court was not required to grant a new trial, but instead acted properly to eliminate the ambiguity or inconsistency by striking the jury’s apportionment of fault; and substantial evidence supports the jury’s award of future economic damages and costs. Accordingly, the court affirmed with respect to Rosner and reversed with respect to Cedars. View "Markow v. Rosner" on Justia Law
Licudine v. Cedars-Sinai Med. Ctr.
After plaintiff suffered injury during a gallbladder surgery that will have lifelong repercussions, she filed suit for malpractice, and sought damages for the resulting diminution in her earning capacity. The court held that the jury must fix a plaintiff’s future earning capacity based on what it is “reasonably probable” she could have earned. In this case, because plaintiff did not adduce any evidence to establish that it was “reasonably probable” she could have obtained employment as an attorney or any evidence on the earnings of lawyers, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the jury’s $730,000 award for lost earning capacity was not supported by substantial evidence. The court also concluded that, given the unusual facts of this case, the trial court acted within its discretion in granting a new trial on damages rather than entering a judgment notwithstanding the verdict for defendants. Accordingly, the court affirmed the grant of a new trial on damages, and provided additional guidance as to a handful of evidentiary issues likely to arise during the retrial. View "Licudine v. Cedars-Sinai Med. Ctr." on Justia Law
Borrayo v. Avery
Borrayo sued Dr. Avery, alleging medical malpractice during the course of treating her for a condition known as thoracic outlet syndrome. The condition, which caused intense pain in her right shoulder and scapula, numbness and swelling, painful grip, and weakness when raising her right elbow, was secondary to repetitive stress at work. Avery performed surgery that involved the removal of the right first rib. Plaintiff suffered adverse symptoms approximately 12 months following the surgery, including pain upon moving her right arm, and difficulty in swallowing food. The trial court granted Dr. Avery summary judgment, after sustaining his objection to her sole expert witness’s declaration. The court of appeal reversed, stating that plaintiff’s expert witness, a physician licensed to practice medicine in Mexico, was qualified to provide an opinion about the standard of care to which defendant was held. View "Borrayo v. Avery" on Justia Law