Poor health outcomes alone are not grounds for a successful medical malpractice lawsuit. Plaintiffs have to show that the doctor or other health care professional failed to follow the applicable standard of health care for their specific industry and region.
In order to establish this, plaintiffs need to present expert witness testimony from someone who is similarly educated and employed. There has to be some showing that the doctor or health care professional owed a certain duty of care and breached that duty by failing to provide adequate medical attention.
In the case of Morrison v. St. Luke’s RMC, a widow accused an emergency room doctor of breaching his duty of care in failing to make sure her husband received an expedient appointment with a cardiologist after he was released from the hospital emergency room.
According to Idaho Supreme Court records, decedent arrived at a hospital emergency room the day after Christmas in 2011. He was complaining of chest pains. The emergency room doctor opined the patient was not having a heart attack – and the doctor was right about that. Although the doctor cleared the patient for discharge from the emergency room, he directed the patient to contact a cardiologist first thing in the morning, and gave him the name and phone number of a specific doctor. He also recommended the patient contact his primary care physician the next day too.
It was the doctor’s experience that when an ER doctor recommends an a specialist appointment, those appointments are timely scheduled. However, they are not necessarily expedited. Cardiologists in that particular region do keep open two, 30-minute time slots each day to see patients with urgent needs. However in this case, the emergency room doctor did not prescribe an urgent need appointment.
The patient’s wife called the cardiologist’s office the next day and was told the next available appointment was for a month later. She pressed to receive an earlier appointment and got one for three weeks away with a different cardiologist.
However, two weeks later, a week before his appointment, patient suffered a fatal heart attack.
The following year, plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor and the hospital, alleging wrongful death.
The case was tried by a jury, which decided the doctor had not violated the applicable standard of care.
Where the plaintiff really went wrong in this case was failing to establish strong evidence of what the local standard of care was. Plaintiff’s primary expert witness was an emergency room physician, but she was from out-of-state. She could not testify as to the appropriate standard of care for Idaho, where this case unfolded. The second expert witness was local but would not testify as to the specifics of this case. He did say that the emergency rooms in this region followed the national standards, but stopped short of saying the doctor in this case breached that standard.
The first expert did testify that national standards dictate the hospital should have a patient referral process in place and that this process should be understood by all employees.
However, the state supreme court affirmed the finding that there was a lack of evidence that defendant breached the applicable standard of care because the exact standard of care was never truly established.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Morrison v. St. Luke’s RMC, July 22, 2016, Idaho Supreme Court
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