Peter v. Vullo et al – NC Appellate Court Weighs Medical Malpractice Appeal

Asheville medical malpractice attorneys know that sometimes, we start off with a long litany of negligence complaints, and may only be able to proceed with one or two of those. Often, this is still enough to result in ample compensation for our client, whether resolution is ultimately reached in a settlement agreement or at trial.
This is the kind of track that the plaintiffs are on in the case of Peter v. Vullo et al, weighed recently by the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

The case, out of Mecklenburg County, initially resulted in a summary judgment in favor of the doctor defendants. However, the appellate court has reversed in part, allowing that some of the plaintiff’s claims should be allowed to proceed.

The husband-and-wife plaintiffs alleged the wife underwent surgery in early 2010 for a severe ankle sprain that had failed to significantly improve after months of physical therapy.

The wife was given a combination of powerful regional anesthesia in preparation for the arthroscopic surgery, and she remained conscious. In the midst of the procedure, the patient reported the doctor was having trouble locating a nerve in which to administer the appropriate pain blocks. An unknown attendant at that point entered to assist.

However, the plaintiffs say the nerve block was not properly administered, even following repeated needle insertions. As a result, she maintains, she suffered extreme pain and numbness in her right leg. Those sensations, she says, have continued to this day, to the extreme that she has been unable to work or conduct even basic day-to-day activities.

In building her case, the plaintiffs deposed two doctors – an anesthesiologist practicing in South Carolina and a neurologist practicing in Florida. After those physicians were deposed, the defendant sought a summary judgment, arguing the witnesses had failed to prove the defendants had acted outside the appropriate standard of care. The trial court agreed.

Upon appeal, the plaintiff argued the trial court erred in granting the summary judgment, erred in its consideration of the plaintiff’s expert witnesses and erroneously granted judgment as to the husband’s loss of consortium claim.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs on several of those points. With regard to the expert witness testimony, the South Carolina anesthesiologist indicated he believed the defendant doctor’s actions to be outside the standard of care. However, he conceded he was not familiar with the local standard of care (being North Carolina) and was applying the national standard. The appellate court considered this to be sufficient, particularly considering the doctor did indicate he had worked in counties and hospitals similar to the one in question.

Next, the appellate court weighed the plaintiff’s claims against the hospital, per the doctrine of respondeat superior, or vicarious liability. Here, the court decided to affirm the trial court’s grant of a summary judgment to the defense.

Finally, on the loss of consortium claim, the court reversed, finding that because the summary judgment was erroneously offered on the base claim of negligence, the loss of consortium claim too should be allowed to continue.

The case has been remanded for trial in accordance with the appellate court’s findings.

Contact the North Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Peter v. Vullo et al, June 3, 2014, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:
Dawkins v. Union Hospital – Doctors, Hospitals, Can Face Ordinary Negligence Claims, April 25, 2014, Asheville Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

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