Underlying Medical Conditions, Can You Claim Res Ipsa Loquitur in a Lawsuit?

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.

Rice relied on res ipsa loquitur, an essential part of personal injury cases in Louisiana. It directly transfers to “the thing speaks for itself” meaning the harm caused is direct evidence of negligence caused by the defendant. Res ipsa loquitur is applied when: (1) the defendant has actual control of the agency that plaintiff’s injuries; (2) the evidence as to the true cause of plaintiff’s loss is more readily accessible to defendant than plaintiff, and (3) the accident is of a kind that does not occur in the absence of negligence. Shahine v. Louisiana State Univ. Med. Ctr. in Shreveport.

The District Court agreed with Cornerstone that there was no genuine issue of material fact pertaining to Rice’s res ipsa loquitur claim. Specifically, the court asserted that even if Rice had created a material fact issue on the first and second elements, the third element weighs in favor of Cornerstone.

Rice agreed that Joshua had a medical condition of osteomalacia before the claim. Cornerstone’s expert witness testified that this disease weakens bones, making the possibility of fractures during a normal treatment or normal transfer highly possible. Rice replied that the expert did not treat Joshua and that his opinion should carry less weight. 

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that Cornerstone made a case for summary judgment because Rice did not rebut the expert’s testimony on the osteomalacia, and given Joshua’s fragile bone condition, res ipsa loquitur does not apply. As a result, Joshua’s accident could still have occurred without negligence. Therefore, Rice’s lawsuit was dismissed, and summary judgment on behalf of Cornerstone was granted. 

While every case is looked at separately with specific facts, this ruling helped answer the question, “if you have an underlying medical condition, can you claim res ipsa loquitur in a lawsuit?” Unfortunately, the answer here was no.


Written by Berniard Law Firm Writer Brianna Saroli

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