Sadler v. PacifiCare – Actual Injury Established in Medical Error Case

In the case of Sadler v. PacifiCare of Nev., Inc., there was little question that health care providers made mistakes. They had reportedly engaged in unsafe injection practices during certain procedures involving patients, and as such, they had put patients at risk of contracting highly contagious, serious blood-borne illnesses.
But when the patients sued in a personal injury action, defendant countered they had not standing because they had not proved “actual injury.”

It is true that with any negligence action, plaintiffs have to show:

  • The existence of a duty of care owed by defendant to plaintiff;
  • A breach of that duty of care;
  • The breach proximately caused injury to plaintiff;
  • Plaintiff’s injury was/is compensable.

Here, defendants as health care providers had a duty to ensure their practices met the applicable industry standards. In this case, according to the complaint, this duty was clearly breached when defendant failed to monitor medical providers who reused syringes. In some cases, patients were injected with vials that were contaminated with diseases such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV and other conditions.

However, none of the patients demanding compensation had actually contracted any of those blood-borne illnesses. No one’s test results had come up positive and there hadn’t been a need for precautionary treatments.

It was for this reason defendants moved for summary judgment in their favor, as there had been “no actual injury.” The assertion of fear or injury or illness was not enough to support a claim of negligence.

Plaintiffs countered that in order for an injury to be compensable, it need not be physical. The core of plaintiffs’ argument was the negligence of defendant resulted in plaintiffs needing to submit to ongoing medical monitoring. This meant further invasive tests and undue emotional hardship and anxiety.

A district court sided with defense, finding the risk of exposure to infected blood wasn’t enough to support the claim.

The case was appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court, which issued a reversal.

As our Charlotte injury lawyers understand, plaintiffs wanted – at minimum – a court order requiring defendants to provide and cover the cost of ongoing medical monitoring. Defendants didn’t necessarily oppose this, but they did argue against a finding of negligence that might precede this remedy.

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged a legal injury which would be sufficient to warrant a claim of negligence in state court.

The court noted other jurisdictions have weighed the issue of medical monitoring claims and rejected their validity on the grounds some physical injury has to be proved in order to state a claim. Rulings in Alabama, Kentucky, Oregon and Mississippi were cited.

However, Nevada declined to accept this restricted view, further noting many more jurisdictions have accepted the stance that costs for medical monitoring may be recovered even in the absence of physical injury. Decisions cited included those made in D.C., California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Utah.

Thus, the court ruled plaintiffs need not assert a physical injury in order to state a cause of action for negligence with medical monitoring as the remedy.

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

Additional Resources:
Sadler v. PacifiCare of Nev., Inc., Dec. 31, 2014, Nevada Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
McMaster v. Dewitt – Statute of Limitations Bars Adderall Prescription Lawsuit, Dec. 19, 2014, Charlotte Injury Lawyer Blog

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