Medical malpractice lawsuits in North Carolina are among the most demanding, complex and difficult cases to pursue. There are numerous requirements that general personal injury claimants don’t have to meet. If your attorney isn’t meticulous in every phase of the process, you may run afoul of the procedural mandates and lose your case.
That said, a court cannot require a plaintiff to adhere to specified standards that the court itself hasn’t explicitly stipulated. That was the ruling handed down by the Idaho Supreme Court in the medical malpractice lawsuit of Lepper v. Eastern Idaho.
According to court records, the lower court granted a summary judgment to the defense after finding that the plaintiffs failed to disclose, along with its expert witness opinions, certain foundational facts as required by statute.
But the problem, as the state high court saw it, was that the plaintiffs were being held to a higher standard than what had been spelled out in the plaint language of the trial court’s scheduling order/ request. That wasn’t fair.
Here’s what happened:
Plaintiff underwent surgery on his lower back in the summer of 2010. He was discharged from the hospital about two weeks later. However, he began to suffer pain and complications from the surgery, and was readmitted to the hospital a week later. The next day, a physician’s order indicated the nurses were to contact his surgeon about his condition. However, the nurses did not do this.
Four days later, plaintiff was still admitted to the hospital, and he began to experience serious pain in his back and numbness in his legs. He alleged neither the nurses nor the doctor took appropriate steps once they became aware of his condition to evaluate, treat or care for him.
When another nurse took over his care, five days after he’d been admitted and while still complaining about worsening back pain and numbness, he suddenly couldn’t move his legs anymore. His pain became acute. And still, the nurse did not communicate this information to the doctor, who indicted nothing was reported to him until he started his rounds about 10 a.m. that day.
The doctor soon thereafter ordered an MRI, which indicated he was suffering a compression of the nerves on his spinal cord, due to a hematoma (or bleed) near the base of the skull.
Plaintiff ultimately suffered permanent paralysis to his lower extremities. He also has dysfunction in his bowel and bladder that require him to wear a catheter and colostomy bag. He and his wife filed a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Medical malpractice cases are different than other general negligence cases in that expert witnesses are not optional for plaintiffs. They are required to prove the case – and a case won’t get past the summary judgment stage without qualified expert witness testimony presenting evidence the defendant(s) failed to adhere to the applicable standard of care.
Plaintiffs did so here. The court issued an order in January 2013 indicating they had to disclose their expert witnesses – including opinions and conclusions – at least 100 days before trail, or by the end of October that year. Plaintiffs met this deadline.
What they did not do was include statements indicating that the expert witnesses were familiar with the applicable standard of care. Now, it is required by state law that expert witnesses be familiar with the applicable standard of care, but there was nothing in the trial judge’s order indicating they had to spell out how they were familiar with local care standards. Trial court was within its power to request such information, but it did not do so.
However, it was based on this lack of information that the judge agreed to grant summary judgment in favor of the defense.
Idaho Supreme Court reversed, finding this was an abuse of discretion because the information the court was demanding – and which it was entitled to demand – was not clearly spelled out in the original order.
That means plaintiffs will have the opportunity to take their medical malpractice case to court.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Lepper v. Eastern Idaho, March 4, 2016, Idaho Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Nursing Home Arbitration Agreements Can be Tossed, March 14, 2016, Charlotte Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog