Medical Deaths Aren’t Always Medical Malpractice

medical_patch_association_pills-scaledWhen a patient suffers from harm done to them by the negligence of a health care provider, he may be a victim of medical malpractice. A recent Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals case explained why it is not always a case of medical malpractice when an avoidable medical death occurs.

Andrew Moonan fell at home and was taken by ambulance to the emergency room, where an x-ray showed two fractured ribs. Several days after being released, Moonan called Dr. Monte, his primary care doctor, after hours, requesting he return to the hospital. A couple of days later, he collapsed and was taken to the hospital, where he died due to a pulmonary embolism. His wife and son filed a complaint for medical malpractice against Dr. Monte with the Louisiana Division of Administration. The panel unanimously determined Dr. Monte was not negligent and did not breach his standard of care with Moonan. 

The Moonans filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Monte and his insurer, claiming Dr. Monte breached the standard of care in several ways, including failing to inform Moonan of the risks associated with staying in bed all day and the risk of a pulmonary embolism, allowing his medial technologist to tell Moonan to get up and walk since his condition was not serious, and failing to tell Moonan to return to the emergency room. The jury reached a unanimous verdict in favor of Dr. Monte, and the Moonans filed a motion for a new trial which the trial court denied. The Moonans appealed, claiming the trial judge erred in allowing Dr. Diechmann to testify as an expert because it violated the court’s Scheduling Order, and the judge erred in redacting two parts of the wife’s timeline because it contained crucial information about the credibility of the parties.

The trial court has great discretion in implementing and enforcing pre-trial orders. When there is any doubt about whether an attorney has failed to abide by the pre-trial order, the court should favor receiving the information, and absent any abuse of discretion, the judge’s decision will be upheld (La. C.C.P. art. 1551). Here, the trial court did not abuse discretion to allow Dr. Diechmann to testify as an expert witness because the Moonans were aware of Dr. Diechmann’s opinion and potential testimony. Even though there was no expert report as required by the Scheduling Order, the Moonans were aware of his opinion. Therefore, the court concluded this claim made by the Moonans lacked merit.

The Moonans also argued parts of the wife’s timeline should not have been redacted because they were not hearsay. Hearsay is an out-of-court statement offered for the truth of the matter asserted (La. C.E. art. 801(c)). The appeals court decided the statements were hearsay, but the trial court did not abuse discretion in redacting the statements from the timeline. 

The redacted portions of the timeline were about statements by Dr. Monte, and Mrs. Moonan admitted she never heard the phone conversation between her husband and Dr. Monte. In addition, the statements were offered to prove Dr. Monte breached the standard of care. The court concluded there was no merit for the Moonans’ second assignment of error. The court concluded there was no basis for overturning the jury’s unanimous verdict in favor of the defendant and decided the trial court did not abuse its power in denying the motion for a new trial. 

Losing a loved one is an immeasurable hardship, particularly when their passing may have been preventable. In the midst of such a devastating situation, it is crucial to untangle the intricate web of circumstances surrounding medical malpractice claims. While the tragedy of Moonan’s death cannot be understated, the court concluded that it was not a case of medical malpractice on the part of Dr. Monte. This poignant reminder serves as a testament to the intricacies of medical negligence, urging us to approach such cases with an open mind and retain experienced legal counsel before proceeding with a lawsuit.

Additional Sources: Noemie I Moonan, et al. v. Louisiana Medical Mutual Insurance Company and Dr. Frank J. Monte

Written by Berniard Law Firm writer Alivia Rose

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