Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Medical Malpractice
Reibenstein v. Barax
Appellee Linda Reibenstein undisputedly brought her claims against Appellant Patrick Conaboy, M.D., after the two-year period had run, and the death certificate undisputedly and correctly noted the medical cause of Reibenstein’s decedent’s death. The trial court ruled that the phrase “cause of death” referred specifically and only to the direct medical cause of death. Accordingly, it granted summary judgment to Dr. Conaboy under Section 513(d) of the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act (“MCARE”). The Superior Court reversed, interpreting “cause of death” more broadly to encompass considerations associated with the manner of death (i.e., legal cause). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that MCARE’s tolling provision could not bear the breadth of that reading, and reversed. View "Reibenstein v. Barax" on Justia Law
Estate of Cowher. v. Kodali, et al
The jury in this medical malpractice case awarded plaintiff Karen Cowher a lump sum amount of damages under the Pennsylvania Survival Act, and did not itemize the amount of pain and suffering damages or other components of its aggregate award. The Superior Court granted the defendants Dr. Sobhan Kodali, St. Luke’s University Health Network, and St. Luke’s Cardiology Associates a new trial on survival damages based on their claim the admission of plaintiff’s expert opinion testimony on pain and suffering was erroneous. The narrow question the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed in this appeal was whether defendants waived their right to a new trial under the general verdict rule. This rule applies and mandates waiver when a general verdict rests upon both valid and invalid grounds, and the litigant challenging the verdict failed to request a special verdict slip that would have clarified the basis for the verdict. The Supreme Court concluded these were the circumstances here. Accordingly, the Supreme Court held defendants waived a new trial under the general verdict rule and reversed the Superior Court’s order for a new trial. View "Estate of Cowher. v. Kodali, et al" on Justia Law
Steltz v. Meyers M.D., et al.
In 2016, Craig Steltz filed a medical malpractice action against Dr. William Meyers, Vincera Core Institute, and Vincera Institute (collectively Appellants). While rehabilitating from surgery, Steltz, a professional football player, felt a pop in his right leg. This led him to return to Dr. Meyers, after team physicians received results from a MRI. At a follow-up appointment, Dr. Meyers also performed an MRI on Steltz, discussed the MRI with Dr. Adam Zoga, a musculoskeletal radiologist, and concluded Steltz had scar tissue breakup, a normal postoperative finding, and not a new injury. However, Dr. Paul Read, a second musculoskeletal radiologist, also independently reviewed the second MRI, and issued a report concluding there was a complete tear of the adductor tendon. Based on these conflicting interpretations of the MRI, Steltz alleged Dr. Meyers was negligent in failing to diagnose and disclose the existence of the tear as reported by Dr. Read. Appellants’ counsel’s first line of questioning to Dr. Zoga on direct examination at trial, asked Dr. Zoga's estimation of how many musculoskeletal radiologists there were in the US, and commented, in his question, that "plaintiff couldn’t find one of them to come into this courtroom to support Dr. Read, did you know that?" Steltz's counsel requested a curative instruction, and moved for a mistrial. The trial court gave the jury a curative instruction and denied the mistrial. Appellants' counsel, in closing, referred back to that line of questioning, asserting Steltz “didn’t bring anybody in to dispute [Dr. Crain and Dr. Zoga] because they can’t.” Steltz’s counsel did not object to any of these statements. Instead, in rebuttal, Steltz’s counsel reiterated that Dr. Read was a board-certified radiologist with a focus in musculoskeletal radiology. The jury returned a verdict for Appellants. Steltz filed a post-trial motion asserting the trial court erred in denying his motion for a mistrial because the effect of Appellants’ counsel’s question to Dr. Zoga was so prejudicial that no jury instruction could adequately cure the prejudice. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying a mistrial based on a single, unanswered question proposed to an expert witness, and that decision alone could not later serve as the basis for granting a new trial. View "Steltz v. Meyers M.D., et al." on Justia Law
Temple v. Providence Care Center
In 2008, Elma Betty Temple (“Elma”), who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, became a resident of Providence Care Center, a nursing home located in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Providence Care Center, LLC (“Providence”) owned and operated the facility, while Grane Healthcare Company (“Grane”) provided management services. In November 2011, Elma, then aged 81, fell while walking on a ramp. She suffered a fracture in her right humerus, a fracture in her right pelvis, and a laceration to her right elbow. Providence apparently was not supervising Elma at the time; the only witness to the incident, a hospice chaplain, was not a designated caregiver. In 2012, Emla's son, James Temple (“Temple”), filed a complaint on Elma’s behalf against Providence and Grane, alleging negligence and corporate negligence, and sought punitive damages. Temple alleged that Providence should have known that Elma required supervision, because of two previous falls in 2011. Temple further claimed that the facility was understaffed, and that Providence failed to provide needed safety measures. In this case, a panel of the superior court concluded that, even though Providence had waived its opportunity to ask for a mistrial, the trial court nonetheless possessed and invoked its inherent authority to grant a new trial sua sponte for the same reasons that Providence raised in its post-trial motions. In so ruling, the superior court affirmed the trial court’s grant of a new trial. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recognized that a trial court possesses "the very limited and restrained authority to halt proceedings and compel them to begin anew based upon that unpreserved error. But in such a circumstance, a trial court may only use its sua sponte authority to grant a new trial where 'exceedingly clear error' results in 'manifest injustice,' of a constitutional or structural nature." Because Providence did not preserve its request for a mistrial and because the trial court did not grant, and could not have granted, a new trial sua sponte based upon the unpreserved request for a mistrial, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Temple v. Providence Care Center" on Justia Law
Yanakos. v. UPMC, et al
Susan Yanakos suffered from a genetic condition called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (AATD). In the summer of 2003, one of Susan’s physicians, Dr. Amadeo Marcos, advised her that she needed a liver transplant due to the progression of her AATD. Because Susan was not a candidate for a cadaver liver, her son Christopher volunteered to donate a lobe of his liver to his mother. Christopher advised one of his mother’s physicians that several of his family members suffered from AATD, but that he was unsure whether he did as well. Additional laboratory tests for Christopher were ordered, but Christopher was never informed him of the results, which allegedly showed that Christopher had AATD and was not a candidate for liver donation. One month after Christopher’s consultation with physicians, surgery proceeded; a portion of Christopher’s liver was removed and transplanted into Susan. More than twelve years later, Christopher, Susan, and Susan’s husband, William Yanakos sued UPMC, and the doctors involved, raising claims for battery/lack of informed consent, medical malpractice, and loss of consortium. The Yanakoses alleged that they did not discover Appellees’ negligence until eleven years after the transplant surgery, when additional testing revealed that Susan still had AATD, which the transplant should have eliminated. In this appeal by allowance, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the seven-year statute of repose in Section 1303.513(a) of the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act (MCARE Act) comported with Article I, Section 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Because the Court concluded the seven-year statute of repose was not substantially related to an important government interest, it reversed the Superior Court’s order affirming the trial court’s grant of judgment on the pleadings and remanded for further proceedings. View "Yanakos. v. UPMC, et al" on Justia Law
In Re: Enforcement of Subpoenas b/f the Bd of Med.
Sarah DeMichele, M.D., was a board-certified psychiatrist licensed to practice medicine in Pennsylvania. From August 2011 through February 2013, Dr. DeMichele provided psychiatric care to M.R. M.R. struggled with suicidal ideations and engaged in a pattern of self-harming behavior, which she discussed regularly with Dr. DeMichele. In December 2012, M.R.’s self-inflicted injuries necessitated emergency medical treatment. M.R. ultimately was transferred to a Trauma Disorders Program in Maryland. In the program, M.R. was treated by psychiatrist Richard Loewenstein, M.D., and psychologist Catherine Fine, Ph.D. During the course of his treatment of M.R., Dr. Loewenstein obtained M.R.’s medical records from Dr. DeMichele. In 2014, Dr. Loewenstein submitted a complaint to the Professional Compliance Office of Pennsylvania’s State Board of Medicine (“Board”), in which he alleged that Dr. DeMichele’s care of M.R. was professionally deficient. Dr. Loewenstein’s complaint prompted an investigation and, ultimately, the initiation of disciplinary proceedings against Dr. DeMichele. In 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of State’s Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs (“Bureau”) filed an order directing Dr. DeMichele to show cause as to why the Board should not suspend, revoke, or restrict her medical license, or impose a civil penalty or the costs of investigation. In advance of the hearing, Dr. DeMichele requested that the hearing examiner issue subpoenas for the testimony of M.R. and the medical records of Dr. Loewenstein, Dr. Fine, the program, and M.R.’s former treating psychologist, April Westfall, Ph.D. Relying upon the authority provided under 63 P.S. 2203(c), the hearing examiner issued the requested subpoenas. However, when served with the subpoenas, all of M.R.’s treatment providers refused to release their records absent a court order or M.R.’s authorization. M.R. subsequently refused to authorize the release of her records. In this direct appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked to consider the enforceability of the subpoenas, as well as related questions regarding the scope and applicability of numerous statutes that protect a patient’s medical information. The Commonwealth Court granted the physician’s petition to enforce the subpoenas. Because the Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to decide the issue, it vacated that court’s order. View "In Re: Enforcement of Subpoenas b/f the Bd of Med." on Justia Law
Mitchell. v. Shikora
In a medical negligence case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the admissibility of evidence regarding the risks and complications of a surgical procedure in a medical negligence case. Consistent with the Court's recent decision in Brady v. Urbas, 111 A.3d 1155 (Pa. 2015), the Court found that evidence of the risks and complications of a surgery may be admissible at trial. View "Mitchell. v. Shikora" on Justia Law
Nicolaou v. Martin
Sometime in 2001, Nancy Nicolaou was bitten by a tick on her left ankle, after which she developed a rash and experienced numbness and tingling in her left toe, fatigue, and lower back pain. This appeal presented the issue of whether Appellants Nancy and Nicholas Nicolaou satisfied the discovery rule so as to toll the running of the statute of limitations on their medical malpractice action filed against Appellee health care providers for failing to diagnose and treat Mrs. Nicolaou’s Lyme disease. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of appellees, deeming appellants’ action time-barred. The Superior Court affirmed, holding that the discovery rule did not toll the statute of limitations because, as a matter of law, appellants failed to establish that they pursued their action with reasonable diligence. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held summary judgment was granted improperly because the determination of whether appellants acted with due diligence under the circumstances presented was one of fact for a jury to decide. View "Nicolaou v. Martin" on Justia Law
Shinal v. Toms M.D.
In a medical malpractice action premised upon lack of informed consent, the issue presented was whether the trial court erred in refusing to strike prospective jurors for cause based upon their relationships to the case through their employer or their immediate family member's employer. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err in this regard. However, the Court concluded the trial court erred when it instructed the jury to consider information provided by the defendant surgeon's qualified staff in deciding the merits of the informed consent claim. Because a physician's duty to provide information to a patient sufficient to obtain her informed consent is non delegable, the Court reversed the Superior Court's order affirming the judgment entered in favor of the defendant, and remanded for a new trial. View "Shinal v. Toms M.D." on Justia Law
Sernovitz v. Dershaw
In a discretionary appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed a legislative-process challenge to a 1988 enactment. This issue was raised in the context of a professional negligence lawsuit filed in 2010, asserting causes of action for wrongful birth. Rebecca Sernovitz sought medical care after becoming pregnant. Because she and her husband are both of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, their child was at increased risk of suffering from a genetic disorder known as familial dysautonomia (“F.D.”). Her treating physicians, negligently misinformed her about the test results, telling her she was not a carrier. Thereafter, Mrs. Sernovitz gave birth to a son, Samuel, who suffered from F.D. and would suffer from the disorder for the rest of his life. Mrs. Sernovitz later learned that both she and her husband were carriers of the mutation. If she had been correctly informed of the results of her test in a timely manner, further testing would have ensued, which would eventually have revealed Samuel’s condition while he was still in utero. Had that occurred, Mrs. Sernovitz would have obtained an abortion. In October 2010, plaintiffs Mr. and Mrs. Sernovitz filed an amended complaint against the health-care providers and their employers and corporate parents (“Defendants”), asserting claims for wrongful birth and seeking damages for medical expenses and emotional distress. Although Section 8305(a) of the Judicial Code barred such claims, plaintiffs alleged that Act 47 of 1988 (of which Section 8305 was enacted) was unconstitutional in its entirety on several grounds. In particular, they averred that: the act’s original purpose was changed during its passage through the General Assembly, contrary to Article III, Section 1; it contained more than one subject, in violation of Article III, Section 3; and, in its final form, it was not considered on three days in each House, thus failing to conform with Article III, Section 4. The common pleas court determined that the act complied with Article III, sustained the preliminary objections on the basis that the wrongful-birth claims were barred by Section 8305, and dismissed the amended complaint. A three-judge panel of the Superior Court reversed in a published decision. Having stricken Section 8305, the Superior Court reversed the common pleas court’s order dismissing the amended complaint and remanded for further proceedings. Defendants moved for reconsideration, and appealed to the Supreme Court when their motion was denied. The Supreme Court disagreed with the Superior Court’s decision, reversed, and remanded for reinstatement of the common pleas court’s order dismissing the complaint. View "Sernovitz v. Dershaw" on Justia Law