Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

vcc_broadway_hi_res-scaledYou think that when you’re being taken care of by hospital personnel, you are in safe hands and do not have to fear for your safety. However, if you are injured when being moved from a hospital cart to your bed, can you claim negligence based on res ipsa loquitur? The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals addresses this question and the difficulties in recovering damages if you have an underlying preexisting condition.

Joshua Rice was a patient at Cornerstone Hospital for over a year before passing away in May 2012. Joshua’s father, Tommy Rice, brought a negligence suit against Cornerstone, claiming the staff entangled Joshua’s leg and arm when they moved him from a hospital cart to his bed. He suffered a fracture in his hip and shoulder as a result.

Believing they were not liable for Rice’s injuries, Cornerstone filed a motion for summary judgment. Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court should grant summary judgment when there is no genuine dispute of any material fact. If a plaintiff such as Rice cannot prove his case at trial, then a court will dismiss it.

medical_instruments_examination_424729-scaledAfter a medical malpractice-induced injury, patients may need significant awards of damages to cover the expenses of a resulting disability.  A case in Shreveport shows how to present substantial evidence of an ongoing need for care. It also helps answer the question; What kind of Evidence is Needed to Prove Future Medical Benefits in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

In 2007, Dr. Anil Nanda operated on Barbara Wise to address weakness in her right shoulder. Unfortunately, during the surgery, Dr. Nanda accidentally made a small tear in the membrane covering the spinal cord. Although Dr. Nanda attempted to seal the tear, Barbara experienced ongoing post-surgical weakness in her upper and lower extremities. When Wise and her husband brought up her symptoms to Dr. Nanda at follow-up appointments, he told them that these complications were normal and would eventually go away. However, when the weakness persisted, Dr. Nanda ordered an MRI, which showed a spinal fluid leak putting pressure on Wise’s spinal cord. Although Dr. Nanda corrected the tear in a second surgery, Wise continued to suffer severe weakness in her extremities that required aggressive rehabilitation. 

Wise filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Nanda and Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center to recover the costs incurred due to her condition. She was awarded $1,355,740 for medical expenses and benefits between the injury and verdict, 2) $1,054,776 for future medical expenses  3) $517,000 for lost wages, and $250,000 for pain and suffering. LSU appealed the award of costs between the injury and verdict and lost wages. 

dentist_dental_dentistry_teeth-scaledAppeals from trial court decisions can be costly, especially if the result is again not decided in your favor. Tara Lorraine (“Ms. Lorraine”), a dental patient at Bluebonnet Dental Care, L.L.C., learned this the hard way after appealing a jury verdict decided against her.  The Louisiana Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (“First Circuit”) affirmed that jury verdict and assigned costs of the appeal to be paid by Ms. Lorraine. The following case shows the difficulty in proceeding with a medical malpractice lawsuit in Louisiana based on alleged substandard dental procedures.

Ms. Lorraine alleged that her injuries occurred during several dental treatments over several months. First, on January 21, 2010, Ms. Lorraine accused Dr. Ross Quartano (“Dr. Quartano”) of spilling etchant on her throat, which left her with a permanent scar. Then, on April 30, 2010, she accused Dr. Louis Lamendola (“Dr. Lamendola”) of extracting one of her teeth without her consent. Finally, Ms. Lorraine claimed that Dr. Andre Bruni (“Dr. Bruni”) and Dr. Quartano failed to remove substantial underlying decay before they filled some of her teeth, causing her such extreme pain that eventually, she had to seek additional help from a different dentist.

Subsequently, Ms. Lorraine filed a complaint with Louisiana’s Patient Compensation Fund, asking for a medical review panel of each of the three doctors. Upon reviewing Ms. Lorraine’s complaint, the medical review panel found that there was no evidence to support a breach of the standard of care as it related to Dr. Quartano and Dr. Bruni and that a material fact existed regarding Ms. Lorraine’s informed consent with Dr. Lamendola’s removal of her tooth. Thus it did not necessitate an opinion from the medical review panel. However, despite these findings, Ms. Lorraine filed a lawsuit against the same three doctors in the 19th Judicial District Court. Like the medical review panel, the jury found that Ms. Lorraine failed to prove the breach of standards of care. Therefore, the court entered a judgment in favor of the doctors, dismissing Ms. Lorraine’s claims and denying her request for a new trial.

hospital_corridor_operating_room-scaledFiling a medical malpractice lawsuit in Louisiana requires the plaintiff to pay a bond before the medical review panel is conducted. But what do you do when you cannot pay the bond? Is there a way to still proceed with your case? The following medical malpractice lawsuit out of Jefferson Parish shows that if you are granted pauper status under La. C.C.P. art. 5181, you could be relieved of the bond requirement.

Delores and Elvorn Tate filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Ochsner Clinic Foundation for personal injuries and other damages. The Tates alleged the negligent placement of an IV into Delores’s left hand during her hospitalization at Ochsner Hospital caused her injuries. Following the submission of Tate’s lawsuit, Ochsner filed a motion for the Tates to post a bond for all the costs of the medical review panel.

Louisiana law requires those filing a medical malpractice lawsuit to post a cash or surety bond. The amount of the bond must be approved by the court. After the lawsuit, the bond will be forfeited to the defendant’s healthcare provider for reimbursement of the costs of the medical review panel if the Defendant wins. However, if the defendant is found liable, they will be required to reimburse the claimant an amount equal to the bond. La. R.S. 40:1299.47(I)(2)(c).

hourglass_time_hours_sand-scaledA man is in the hands of a facility tasked with providing sufficient medical care. Instead of meeting this standard of care and due diligence, the facility fails to adjust the man’s diet, and he chokes on solid food that he should not eat, leading to his death. When his parents and children bring multiple complaints of medical malpractice, his children’s claim gets dismissed despite the apparent negligence of the facility. Why did that happen?

Joseph Triggs was this very man. While in the care of the Audubon Health and Rehabilitation Center (“Audubon”), Mr. Triggs choked on solid food and died in January 2013. A medical malpractice claim naming Mr. Triggs as the plaintiff was brought eight months after his death, alleging that the facility’s failure to adjust Mr. Triggs’s diet led to his death. Aubudon did not adjust his diet despite difficulty chewing and swallowing solid food. 

As is the process for medical malpractice in Louisiana, the complaint requested that a medical review panel assess the situation. Nearly twenty-two months after Mr. Triggs passed, a request was made to amend the complaint, adding Mr. Triggs’s children as claimants, along with the decedent’s Estate. Finally, over two-and-a-half years after Mr. Triggs died, the medical review panel unanimously decided that Audubon had been negligent in caring for Mr. Triggs, and Mr. Triggs’s children and Estate filed a lawsuit in the trial court on a claim of medical malpractice. 

building_hospital_enschede_931283-scaledDoes a physician’s use of differential diagnosis raise a medical malpractice issue in Louisiana? That question is at the center of a recent medical malpractice case out of Lake Charles. The Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal addresses liability attached to a method of clinical diagnosis known as a differential diagnosis.  

On February 23, 2011, after experiencing two seizure-like episodes, Ms. Judith LeBlanc was seen in the emergency room of CHRISTUS Health Southwestern Louisiana (St. Patrick’s Hospital)  by her primary care physician Dr. Lewis. Ms. LeBlanc was being treated for a jaw infection and scheduled for a tooth extraction the next day. Dr. Lewis ordered several tests over the next few days to rule out multiple potential underlying conditions. Although Dr. Lewis made a differential diagnosis that included sepsis as a possibility, Ms. LeBlanc was not treated for sepsis because she displayed no signs of it. Two days after her discharge, Ms. LeBlanc developed seizure activity and cardiopulmonary arrest and eventually passed.  

A medical malpractice lawsuit was filed by Leblanc’s family. As part of the lawsuit, a Medical Review Panel met and found that neither St. Patrick’s nor Dr. Lewis breached the standard of care. St. Patrick’s and Dr. Lewis relied upon the Medical Review Panel’s findings in filing motions for summary judgment to dismiss the lawsuit.   The Fourteenth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Calcasieu granted those summary judgment motions and Leblanc appealed.  

Licensed attorneys in New Orleans were asked which attorney they would recommend to residents in the New Orleans area. Attorney Jeffrey Berniard, of the New Orleans-based Berniard Law Firm, LLC, was named one of the best mass litigation and class action attorneys in New Orleans in the November 2012 issue of the magazine. Propelled into success by holding insurance companies accountable in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Berniard has built the Berniard Law Firm into one of the premiere personal injury law practices in not only New Orleans, but the entire state of Louisiana. Since Hurricane Katrina, Berniard Law Firm has focused on insurance disputes and class action litigation.

Jeffrey Berniard has been involved in several high-profile cases, solidifying his expertise in complex high risk litigation. He worked on the highly publicized Deep Water Horizon oil rig case in the Gulf Coast, representing a very large group of individuals affected by the sinking oil rig. In 2008, Berniard Law Firm secured a $35 million dollar settlement for a class of 70,000 members seeking bad faith penalties for tardy payments by a Louisiana insurance company in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. In 2009, the Berniard Law Firm participated in five class actions against insurance companies and corporations. In the process of these major claims, the firm also helped many residents of the Gulf Coast with their personal injury concerns, insurance claims and business disputes.

– What is Mass Tort Litigation? –

In Jane Doe v. Southern Gyms, LLC arising out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a class action suit was filed involving a local branch of the national gym, Anytime Fitness, was accused of taking pictures of 250-300 women changing in a locker room. The plaintiffs filed on behalf of all women who’d used the gym during the time period and the class was certified to proceed to trial.

To understand what “the class was certified” means, it is important to understand what a class action suit is the reasons why we allow class actions in the first place. Class action suits are a useful tool in litigation in that it can bring together large numbers of substantially similar or identical claims into a single proceeding. This contributes to judicial efficiency as often times the type of cases litigated as class actions can have as many as thousands of plaintiffs. Assuming each of these cases was large enough to be worth bringing to court individually, there would be substantial amounts of duplicated effort by each party. However, the real value of class actions is in allowing cases that normally would be too small to litigate individually to have their day in court. If a case involves a real injustice to thousands of people, but the actual per person damages is relatively small it would be too costly to vindicate their claims.

In this case, the class proposed was:

all females who physically entered the women’s restroom/locker room/ changing room at Anytime Fitness, 200 Government Street, Baton Rouge, LA 70802 from November 1, 2009, through and including April 5 2010.

The rules that govern class actions require that several hurdles be met before a class can be certified (allowed) to proceed: there must be enough members that litigating separately is impractical; the questions of law and facts in the case common to the parties; the class representative’s claims must be typical of the claims of the class; they are able to protect the interests of the entire class, and finally the class must be able to be adequately defined so the court can be satisfied that the suit will end the dispute.

This case is noteworthy because the actual size of the class is fairly small. The gym operator admitted to videotaping on only 10-15 occasions. While any number of women may have been victims during these periods, the class itself was certified for any woman using the gym during a nearly 6 month period. There is no rule that states the minimum number of plaintiffs required for a class action, but the appeals court did not give a rousing endorsement for the “numerosity” (size) of the class in this case, they merely deferred to the trial court judgment on the matter. What was particularly noteworthy was the court weighed concerns beyond just the actual numbers of women involved. An additional factor was evidence that the gym allowed members from around the country to use it and thus the plaintiffs might not all have been locals which would have substantially increased the burden to litigate separately. Had all the women been locals, it is possible the court would have required “joinder” or just combining separate cases rather than allowing a representative in a class action suit.

Most people have been involved in a class action suit and may not have even been aware of it. Generally, each member of the class is required to be notified to give them the opportunity to opt-out of (or into) the class. This will typically be done via a postcard by mail. Thousands of these cards are thrown away without being read yearly but they can entitle plaintiffs to small to moderate cash settlements without ever setting foot in a courtroom, as you are being represented by the person bringing the suit!

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Settlements are an important part of the legal process. They save time, money, allow the parties to negotiate their own terms, and, above all, they keep the parties from having to go to court to litigate their claims. In the case of settling with insurance companies, the companies like to avoid court because it not only costs them time and money, but also may negatively affect their reputation in the community. As such, it is common practice for an injured person to sign a release form after they receive settlement money. This release form bars the person injured from any future claims against the insurance company. Both parties usually end up happy in this situation because the person who was injured gets some compensation and the insurance company avoids the negative effects of going to court.

What happens if an injured person settles and signs a release form before they realize how badly they are injured? For example, perhaps an individual thinks they only bruised their ribs, but actually suffered from more long term effects such as kidney injuries. In that case, the injuries are likely to be much more expensive than both parties originally anticipated. Then, the injured individual does not have enough money to cover medical expenses and the insurance company gets out of paying for the extra expenses.

In Louisiana, a general release will not necessarily bar recovery for aspects of the claim that the release was not intended to cover. However, most releases are very broad in that they cover any existing injuries and injuries that may occur because of the accident in the future. Louisiana law only allows settlements to be set aside if there was an error when the settlement was signed. Two major mistakes could set aside a settlement: 1) the injured party was mistaken as to what he or she was signing even if there was no fraud involved, or 2) the injured party did not fully understand the nature of the rights being released or that they did not intend to release certain rights. A settlement can also be set aside if there is fraud or misrepresentation involved.

Louisiana Civil Code Article 1953 defines fraud as “. . . misrepresentation or a suppression of the truth made with the intention either to obtain an unjust advantage for one party or to cause a loss of inconvenience to the other. Fraud may also result from silence or inaction.” In order to determine if there is fraud involving a release, which is also a contract, the court will only look to the document itself to determine if fraud is evident. Evidence of fraud in this situation could include any intentionally incorrect statement of material fact, such as stating items that are not covered by the insurance company when those items are actually covered.

A recent case gives an excellent example of a settlement with an insurance company. In that case, an individual fell off a tractor and injured himself. Two insurance companies provided compensation for injuries relating to his fall. Once each insurance company provided compensation, they each had the injured party sign a release form to keep him from filing claims against them in the future should the injuries be worse than originally anticipated.

The injured individual did have complications with his injuries and tried to get the settlements set aside so that he could get more money based on the coverage, but because he signed the release forms and there was no evidence of fraud, the court would not set aside the settlement agreements. The court stated that the injured individual knew exactly what he was releasing and there was no mistake in the settlement. The insurance companies both provided clear statements of what they did and did not cover and provided compensation for the things they did cover. The release statements specifically said that the injured party could not sue again for the same fall even if the injuries got worse, so he could not file claims again.

One lesson to take away from this example is that it might be helpful to find out the extent of your injuries before you enter into any settlements or sign any release forms.

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