Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice
by
Defendant-petitioner Lisa Mestas petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to vacate its order denying her motion for a summary judgment in this wrongful-death/medical-negligence action brought by David Lee Autrey, as the personal representative of the estate of his wife, Bridgette Ann Moore, and to enter a summary judgment in Mestas's favor on the basis of State-agent immunity. In May 2017, Autrey's wife, Moore, went to the University of South Alabama Medical Center to undergo a surgery required by the prior amputation of her right leg. The surgery was performed without incident, and Moore was transferred to a hospital room for recovery. At approximately 9:30 p.m. that night, nurses found Moore unresponsive. Attempts to revive her were unsuccessful, and Moore was pronounced deceased. It was later determined that Moore died as a result of opioid-induced respiratory depression ("OIRD"). Mestas argued that, at all times relevant to Autrey's lawsuit, she was an employee of the University of South Alabama ("USA") and served as the Chief Nursing Officer ("CNO") for USA Health System, which included USA Medical Center, various clinics, and a children's hospital. According to Mestas, as the CNO, her primary responsibilities were administrative in nature and she had not provided any direct patient care since 2010. Mestas argued that because Autrey's claims against her arose from the line and scope of her employment with a State agency,2 and because she did not treat Moore, she was entitled to, among other things, State-agent immunity. The Supreme Court concluded Mestas demonstrated she was entitled to state-agent immunity, and that she had a clear right to the relief sought. The Court therefore granted her petition and issued the writ, directing the trial court to grant her summary judgment. View "Ex parte Lisa Mestas." on Justia Law

by
In 2015, Talignani, a U.S. military veteran, consulted a VA neurosurgeon, who recommended that he undergo neck surgery. Because the VA could not perform a timely surgery, the surgeon suggested Talignani obtain evaluation and treatment at Saint Louis University Hospital. Talignani agreed and expressed a preference for the Hospital because he had previously undergone surgery there. A nurse obtained the VA’s approval to secure treatment for Talignani at a non-VA provider. The VA agreed to pay for “evaluation and treatment rendered pursuant to the non-VA provider’s plan of care.” The VA then sent a request for outpatient services to the Hospital. The Hospital agreed to treat Talignani and asked the VA to conduct several pre-operative tests. In January 2016, Dr. Mercier performed neck surgery on Talignani using the Hospital’s facility and staff. Talignani died shortly after being released.Talignani’s estate alleged he was prescribed excessive pain medication prior to his discharge, which proximately caused his death. An administrative complaint with the VA was denied. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of a suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b). The Act waives sovereign immunity for certain torts committed by “employee[s] of the Government.” The estate’s claim does not involve a government employee. View "Talignani v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Nina’s was a residential care facility for the elderly (RCFE) licensed by the Community Care Licensing Division (CCL) of the State Department of Social Services. Plaintiff, an RN-certified legal nurse consultant, was hired to assist with the closure of Nina’s and agreed to assess each of the residents and recommend a new facility, as required by RCFE closing procedures, Health and Safety Code 1569.682(a)(1)(A).Caregivers from the new RCFE, Frye’s, came to transfer J.N. They immediately noticed that J.N. was in significant pain; multiple bandages “stuck to [J.N.’s] skin and her wounds,” which “all smelled really bad.” J.N.’s toes were black. Frye’s caregivers called 911. J.N. died weeks later. A CCL investigator contacted plaintiff, who confirmed that he had performed J.N.’s assessment. Plaintiff later denied performing J.N.’s physical assessment, stating that Mia “was the one in charge.” He denied guiding or instructing Mia during the assessment, stating he only acted as a “scribe.” The ALJ found clear and convincing evidence that plaintiff committed gross negligence in connection with J.N.'s appraisal, unprofessional conduct in carrying out nursing functions in connection with the appraisal, and unprofessional conduct by not being truthful with the Board investigator regarding J.N.'s care provided.The court of appeal upheld the revocation of plaintiff’s nursing license. Substantial evidence supports the finding that plaintiff engaged in a “usual nursing function” when he performed J.N.’s resident appraisal. Plaintiff’s dishonesty during the investigation constitutes unprofessional conduct. View "Clawson v. Board of Registered Nursing" on Justia Law

by
Hawkins, a Navy veteran, suffered a mental breakdown at work. She was escorted from her workplace in handcuffs and hospitalized for observation. She sought follow-up psychiatric care at a VA hospital. According to Hawkins, the VA doctors who treated her negligently failed to prescribe medication to address severe insomnia and anxiety, despite her complaints that the antidepressant she had been prescribed was not helping. Hawkins suffered another psychotic break during which she attacked and seriously wounded her mother. Hawkins spent a year in jail, lost her job as an RN, and has been unable to return to work.Hawkins sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), alleging medical malpractice. Hawkins claimed that her mental breakdown, which prompted her to seek medical care, was caused by years of workplace bullying and harassment by her supervisor. The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. The Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, 5 U.S.C. 8101(1), bars a suit against the government for damages under any other law, including the FTCA. Before filing this action, Hawkins pursued a claim under FECA; the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs determined that the alleged workplace bullying and harassment did not occur. If the OWCP had determined that the injury for which Hawkins sought medical care was sustained during the course of her employment, her FTCA action would have been barred. View "Hawkins v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Rodney Davis, a physician assistant, learned to perform liposuction under the guidance of a physician. Davis grew dissatisfied with the physician for whom he worked, so he decided to establish a new practice. To do so, Davis needed a physician to serve as his supervising physician. Davis found Dr. Jerrell Borup, who had been an anesthesiologist for 18 years, but who had not practiced medicine for 12 years. Before meeting Davis, Borup had never performed liposuction or other surgery. Borup agreed to serve as “Medical Director,” although he would never perform a procedure at the new practice. Borup’s role, in practice, consisted of reviewing charts. Davis, who gave himself the title of “Director of Surgery,” would perform all of the liposuction procedures. Davis opened his practice, Pacific Liposculpture, in September 2010. In 2015, the Physician Assistant Board (the Board) filed an accusation accusing Davis of, among other things, the unlicensed practice of medicine, gross negligence, repeated negligent acts, and false and/or misleading advertising. An administrative law judge (ALJ) found the Board’s accusations were established by clear and convincing evidence, and recommended the revocation of Davis’s license. The Board adopted the ALJ’s findings and recommendations. Davis filed a petition for a writ of administrative mandamus seeking, inter alia, a writ compelling the Board to set aside its decision. The trial court denied the petition. On appeal, Davis argued the ALJ erred in finding that he committed the various acts alleged, and that the findings were not supported by substantial evidence. He further claimed that the discipline imposed constituted a manifest abuse of discretion. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Davis v. Physician Assistant Board" on Justia Law

by
A physician's professional conduct was examined by the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision. During the disciplinary proceeding a stipulated protective order was entered by the Board. The professional complaint against the physician was dismissed, and approximately two years later the physician requested the Board modify its protective order to allow the physician to use three documents in a different legal proceeding. The Board refused, and the physician appealed. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held: (1) the stipulated blanket protective order making all documents in the administrative proceeding subject to the order and prohibiting their use in any other legal proceeding was contrary to the public policy expressed by the Oklahoma Open Records Act and the Oklahoma Discovery Code; and (2) the physician's claim seeking access to the initial report of misconduct was not properly before the Court. View "State ex rel. Okla. St. Bd. of Medical Licensure & Supervision v. Rivero" on Justia Law

by
Johnson & Johnson and other pharmaceutical defendants sought mandamus relief from an Alabama circuit court order that refused to transfer venue of the underlying lawsuit to the Jefferson County, Alabama circuit court, on grounds that venue in Conecuh County was not proper as to all plaintiffs, or alternatively, on the basis that convenience of the parties and/or the interest of justice required it. In 2019, the plaintiffs filed a complaint at the Conecuh Circuit Court against numerous defendants that, they averred, manufactured, marketed, distributed, and/or dispensed opioid medications throughout Alabama in a manner that was misleading, unsafe, and resulted in drug addiction, injury, and/or death to Alabama citizens. The complaint asserted claims of negligence, nuisance, unjust enrichment, fraud and deceit, wantonness, and civil conspiracy. The manufacturer defendants moved to transfer the case to Jefferson County, reasoning that because 8 of the 17 plaintiffs either had a place of business in Jefferson County or operated hospitals in Jefferson County or adjacent counties, logic dictated that a large percentage of the witnesses for those plaintiffs (i.e., prescribing doctors, hospital administrators, etc.) and their evidence were located in or around Jefferson County. After a review of the circuit court record, the Alabama Supreme Court determined defendants did not demonstrate a clear, legal right to transfer the underlying case from Conecuh to Jefferson County. Therefore, the petition was denied. View "Ex parte Johnson & Johnson et al." on Justia Law

by
In this case heard after the Kentucky Medical Review Panel Act (MRPA), Ky. Rev. Stat. 216C.005 et seq., was declared to be unconstitutional, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the trial court finding the complaint to be untimely and dismissing this case, holding that the complaint was timely as to the individual defendants.Plaintiffs filed a complaint against advanced Practice Registered Nurse Wynetta Fletcher, Dr. Amjad Bkhari, Dr. James Detherage under the MRPA. After the claims made their way through the medical review panel process, Plaintiffs filed a complaint against the same defendants and the entities that allegedly employed them. After Plaintiffs filed their complaint, the Supreme Court's decision in Commonwealth v. Claycomb, 566 S.W.3d 202 (Ky. 2018), wherein the Court declared the MRPA unconstitutional, was finalized. Thereafter, Defendants filed motions to dismiss, alleging that the claims were untimely and that Plaintiffs could not rely on the tolling provision of the MRPA to extend the deadline. The circuit court dismissed the suit as untimely. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) Ky. Rev. Stat. 413.270 applied to Plaintiffs' claims; and (2) Plaintiffs' claims were timely filed under section 413.270 but saved only those claims that were filed with the medical review panel. View "Smith v. Fletcher" on Justia Law

by
When Zhao gave birth to her son “S.,” he suffered an avoidable brachial plexus injury that severely and permanently impaired the function of his right arm. During her pregnancy and S.’s birth, Zhao was attended by an obstetrician employed by a federally supported grant clinic in southern Illinois, who is considered an employee of the U.S. Public Health Service under 42 U.S.C. 233(g), Zhao sued for medical malpractice under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The court found that the obstetrician had been negligent and awarded Zhao, on behalf of S., $2.6 million in lost earnings and $5.5 million in noneconomic damages. S. was not five years old at the time of trial. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting the government’s argument that the calculation of S.’s future lost earnings was improperly speculative, given the uncertainties inherent in projecting a five‐year‐old’s career opportunities. The question may have been difficult, but there was no reversible error. The court took a reasonable approach to estimate the lost earnings award based on data provided in expert testimony. The government also challenged the award of non-economic damages as arbitrary and excessive in comparison to similar cases. The court could have provided a more detailed explanation of its comparative process, but its reasoning did not amount to reversible error. View "Zhao v. United States" on Justia Law

by
In 2009, D. was delivered at Sharon Hospital by Dr. Gallagher and sustained an injury, allegedly causing her shoulder and arm permanent damage. In 2010-2011, preparing to file D.’s malpractice case, counsel requested records from Sharon and Gallagher, limited temporally to the delivery. Counsel believed that Gallagher was privately employed. Sharon was private; Gallagher was listed on the Sharon website. Counsel did not discover that Gallagher was employed by Primary Health, a “deemed” federal entity eligible for Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), malpractice coverage. D.'s mother had been Gallagher's patient for 10 years and had visited the Primary office. In contracting Gallagher, counsel used the Primary office street address. Gallagher’s responses included the words “Primary Health.” The lawsuit was filed in 2016; Pennsylvania law tolls a minor plaintiff’s action until she turns 18.The government removed the suit to federal court and substituted the government for Gallagher. The district court dismissed the suit against the government for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the FTCA. The case against Sharon returned to state court. After exhausting administrative remedies, counsel refiled the FTCA suit. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit as untimely, rejecting a claim that D. was entitled to equitable tolling of the limitations period because counsel had no reason to know that Gallagher was a deemed federal employee or that further inquiry was required. D. failed to show that she diligently pursued her rights and that extraordinary circumstances prevented her from timely filing. View "D.J.S.-W. v. United States" on Justia Law