Easterling v. Kendall – Medical Malpractice for Failure to Diagnose

Medical malpractice is generally thought to occur when a doctor or other health care provider does something they are not supposed to – like operate on the wrong leg or prescribe the wrong dose of medication. But in many cases, it’s what they DON’T do that could be considered a breach of the accepted standard of care.¬†mir

One of the most commonly-cited issues: Failure to diagnose. In fact, this is the No. 1 reason people sue their doctors. A missed or delayed diagnosis can result in extremely poor outcomes for patients suffering from acute illness or other serious medical condition. Those illnesses most often missed by doctors:

  • Breast cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Lung cancers
  • Heart attacks
  • Meningitis (in children)

As in any medical malpractice claim, expert witness testimony is critical to proving that the doctor breached the applicable standard of health care practices for that geographic region and particular medical field. (For example, a doctor with access to all the diagnostic tools available to someone at a large medical center in Charlotte isn’t going to be held to the same standard as a doctor practicing at a small, rural clinic.)

In the recent case of Easterling v. Kendall, before the Idaho Supreme Court, it was an alleged failure to diagnose carotid artery dissection. This is a condition that occurs when there is a tear in one of the arteries of the neck, which is a significant cause of stroke – usually in those older than 50, but for a much larger percentage of younger patients.

In this case, patient was just 15-years-old. She fell from a large, floating structure while swimming. She experienced a severe headache, vomiting and numbness in her left arm. An ambulance was called, and first responders noted that while patient was alert, she had facial droop and her speech was slurred. There was concern she had suffered a stroke and she was flown by helicopter to a hospital in the state’s capital.

At the emergency room, defendant doctor examined patient and noted her facial droop waxed and waned. A CT scan revealed no abnormalities. He called a neurologist, who agreed with defendant doctor’s diagnosis of concussion. No MRI was ordered, and patient was discharged with a prescription for anti-nausea medication.

The next morning, patient was rushed to the ER with severe headache, nausea and her father observed her twitching in her sleep. This time, both a CT and an MRI were conducted, and the radiologist concluded, after reviewing the MRI, patient suffered carotid artery dissection. The attending physician determined patient had a stroke six hours prior to her second emergency room visit. She was again transported by helicopter to the better-equipped facility in Boise, where physicians agreed she had suffered a stroke.

She was admitted to pediatric intensive care, and there was significant debate among doctors about whether she should be put on anticoagulant treatment. She was on and off of low doses of it for several days until she was transferred to a hospital in Utah, where she remained for nearly a month.

Plaintiff contends she suffered permanent neurological damage to due a series of strokes. In her lawsuit against the original emergency department doctor, she alleges the first misdiagnosis of a concussion (and the missed diagnosis of a carotid artery dissection) resulted in her suffering further stroke and permanent neurological damage.

At trial, defense moved for a directed verdict, alleging plaintiff failed to prove medical malpractice because she had failed to present expert witness testimony as to causation. The district court agreed.

On appeal, plaintiff argued expert witness testimony wasn’t required to establish proximate cause in a medical malpractice action. The state supreme court, however, upheld the trial court’s ruling.

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

Additional Resources:

Easterling v. Kendall, Jan. 25, 2016, Idaho Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Watts v. Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp. – Dangerous Drug Lawsuit Under Consumer Fraud Act, Jan. 27, 2016, Asheville Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog

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