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Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

When a litigant who is unsatisfied with a trial court’s ruling files an appeal, the burden is on that appellant to convince the higher court that a mistake was made in the court below.

This can be a difficult task, especially when one of the grounds for the appeal is the alleged bias or favor of the trial court judge.

Facts of the Case

In a recent malpractice case decided by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the plaintiffs were the parents of an infant who died just days after her birth. The plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and wrongful death claims resulted in a jury verdict in favor of the defendant medical providers. The plaintiffs appealed the trial court’s denial of their motion for a new trial, alleging that the trial judge had made various mistakes in her evidentiary rulings and instructions to the jury. The plaintiffs also averred that the trial court judge had engaged in “persistent favoritism and biased conduct” toward the defendants.

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In order to seek compensation from a person or business for injuries caused by negligence, the aggrieved party must file suit within the applicable statute of limitations. In Massachusetts, the limitations period for medical malpractice is three years.

In cases in which a statute of repose is also in effect, the plaintiff must also file his or her case within this period. Under the Massachusetts statute of repose, the plaintiff must file suit not only within three years after the cause of action accrued (the moment at which the plaintiff knew or should have known about the alleged act of negligence) but also within seven years of the alleged act or omission (except in cases involving foreign objects left inside the patient’s body).

Unless both of these time limits are met, the plaintiff cannot prevail.

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Under Massachusetts law, a person who alleges that his or her physician committed an act of medical negligence must submit an offer of proof to a medical malpractice tribunal in order for his or her lawsuit to move forward. If the tribunal decides that there is not sufficient evidence to support the plaintiff’s claim, the plaintiff has the option of posting a cash bond in order to proceed to trial. The bond, of course, is designed to deter patients from proceeding.

Alternatively, the plaintiff can allow the trial court to dismiss the case and then file an appeal, as happened in a recently decided case. An appeals court has the authority to decide whether or not the tribunal was correct in its decision regarding the sufficiency of the plaintiff’s evidence.

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About a year ago, we shared with you a Massachusetts Court of Appeals decision in a malpractice case in which the issue was whether or not suit had been filed within the three-year statute of limitations set forth under Massachusetts law.

The intermediate appellate court decided that the case was timely filed under the continuing treatment doctrine. Since that time, however, the state’s highest court has reviewed the case and decided otherwise.

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Most people understand that there are statutes of limitations that govern the time that an injured person has to bring a claim in a court of law. There are numerous other issues of timeliness, however, of which the general public may be less aware.

One of those issues – the notice period for a medical malpractice lawsuit – was at issue in a recent appellate court decision.

Facts of the Case

In a case recently decided by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, Arsenault v. Bhattacharya, the plaintiff was a woman who sued her primary care physician, seeking redress for alleged medical malpractice in the treatment of the her wrists. The woman’s complaint was filed on October 21, 2013. The defendant first began treating her for carpal tunnel and cervical spondylosis with radiculopathy in January 2008.

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Just as a negligent driver can be held liable in a court of law for damages resulting from the breach of a legal duty while driving a motor vehicle, so can a medical professional be held liable for a failure to uphold the applicable standard of care due a patient during the diagnosis or treatment of an illness, injury, or medical condition, including pregnancy and childbirth.

Unfortunately, such cases can be very difficult and time-consuming, and the plaintiff does not always win, even when a doctor’s actions have allegedly resulted in a very serious injury or even death.

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All personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits arising from negligence require proof of four essential elements. The defendant must have owed the plaintiff a duty, the defendant must have breached the duty, the plaintiff must have suffered damages, and the damages must have been the proximate result of the breached duty.

In some cases, particularly those arising from medical negligence, the plaintiff must provide expert testimony as to the issues of duty and breach of duty. It is up to the trial court judge to determine whether a particular expert relied upon by the plaintiff is qualified to testify on the issues at hand.

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A recent jury verdict returned in a medical negligence case tried in the Hampden Superior Court is making headlines across the state. According to media reports, the family of a girl, now 11, who was allegedly injured due to negligent medical treatment during her birth, sued six doctors who were involved in the mother’s obstetrical care at Baystate Medical Center. The center itself was not named in the lawsuit.

The media has reported that court documents indicate that the alleged acts of malpractice took place on September 5 and 6, back in 2004. At the time, the mother was 28 weeks pregnant and reportedly experiencing decreased fetal movement. She was admitted to the medical center and monitored overnight.

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Under Massachusetts law, a competent adult has a legal right to forgo medical treatment if he or she so chooses. Of course, being able to exercise this right necessitates that a patient have knowledge of the options of treatment available to him or her, as well as the potential risks of each.

A physician’s failure to obtain informed consent can lead to liability for medical malpractice. To prevail on such a theory, a patient must be able to show that the doctor had a duty to disclose certain information, that the doctor did not do so, that there was a causal connection between the failure to disclose and the patient’s injury, and that actual damages resulted.

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Many things can go wrong in a hospital setting. A doctor or nurse can fail to follow the established standard of care, and a patient can suffer the consequences of medical malpractice. A janitor can fail to put up a “wet floor” sign, causing a visitor to slip and fall. A security guard can fail to notice a dangerous trespasser in a parking garage, and a patient’s family member may be attacked.

Ultimately, the question of whether the medical facility is liable to the injured person in such situations depends upon the basic components of negligence law. Was a duty owed? Was the duty breached? Was the plaintiff harmed? Was there causation between the breach of duty and the plaintiff’s damages?

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