Pitt-Hart v. Sanford USD Med. Ctr. – Medical Malpractice or General Negligence?

In any injury that occurs on or near a medical facility or involves a medical professional, one of the first questions that must be raised is:

Is this a matter of medical malpractice or general negligence?hospitalbed2

The answer to this question will determine the course of action for the personal injury plaintiff. On the whole, medical malpractice cases are more challenging. There are more requirements that must be met. There are stricter rules on notification and statutes of limitations are typically less than for general negligence. All medical malpractice cases require affidavits and the promise of testimony from medical experts who are similarly positioned with defendant. And the proof burden isn’t a matter of whether the health care provider in question acted with negligence, but rather whether he or she adhered to the applicable standard of care – which is different for every provider in every region. Medical malpractice cases also tend to take longer and cost the plaintiffs more in legal fees because they often deal with complex facts and issues of law. 

If there is even a remote chance that a claim sounds in medical malpractice as opposed to general negligence, you can bet the defense is going to raise that issue early on for the simple fact that the plaintiff will face a more uphill battle.

This is not to say that all injuries that happen at a hospital or clinic are the result of medical negligence. Courts determining whether that’s the case will want to know whether the plaintiff was injured in the course of receiving care. Even plaintiffs who were patients can still bring claims for general negligence if the injury that occurred was unrelated to their receiving care.

In the case of Pitt-Hart v. Sanford Med. Ctr., the South Dakota Supreme Court was asked to weigh an appeal by a plaintiff whose personal injury lawsuit was dismissed because it was filed outside the two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims. Plaintiff argued it wasn’t a medical malpractice claim it was a general negligence lawsuit, and therefore he had three years under state law to file. (This limits vary from state-to-state.)

According to court records, plaintiff underwent a knee replacement surgery at defendant hospital. While still hospitalized the following day, he asked for help getting to the restroom. A technician responded and walked him to the restroom and assisted him. However on the way back, as plaintiff was trying to get back in bed, he fell.

After he was discharged, he started first inpatient and then outpatient physical therapy. Six months after his surgery, defendant hospital agreed to provide plaintiff outpatient physical therapy at no charge because his insurance would no longer cover it. These services continued for three months.

Two years after that, plaintiff sought additional physical therapy from defendant hospital for injuries associated with the continuing effects of his fall-related injury. However, the hospital declined to pay for it.

He filed his lawsuit later that month.

The court granted summary judgment favoring defendant, finding the claim exceeded the statute of limitations for medical malpractice.

Plaintiff appealed. He argued that because the tech was not a “practitioner of the healing arts,” as per statute, so this wasn’t a medical negligence claim. But first of all, the claim was not against the technician but the hospital that employed him (the claim was vicarious liability). The hospital is in fact a health care provider, regardless of the technician’s status. But beyond that, plaintiff’s claim was tied to his treatment as a patient. He was receiving mobility assistance post-surgery. If, in the alternative, he had slipped on a wet floor, this might be a different case.

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

Additional Resources:

Pitt-Hart v. Sanford Med. Ctr., April 13, 2016, South Dakota Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

$300M Robotic Surgery Injury Lawsuit Goes to Trial, April 11, 2016, Medical Malpractice Lawyer Charlotte

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