Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice
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Antoinette Belle, as personal representative of the estate of Edith Mitchell, deceased, sued various health-care providers that treated Mitchell while she was hospitalized in April 2009. Belle eventually reached settlements with all of those health-care providers except two physicians. The trial court entered a summary judgment against Belle and in favor of the two physicians, bringing the medical-malpractice action to a close. Belle then filed a legal-malpractice case against four attorneys and three law firms that had represented her at varying times in the medical-malpractice action, alleging they had been negligent in representing her. Belle later brought an additional claim of fraudulent concealment. The attorneys and law firms denied the allegations against them, arguing that Belle's claims were untimely and that they had no factual or legal basis. The trial court agreed and entered judgments in favor of the attorneys and law firms. Belle appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed judgment in the attorneys and law firms. View "Belle v. Goldasich, Jr., et al." on Justia Law

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In 2009, Della Gallegos had to undergo three cranial surgeries after her radiologist, Dr. Steven Hughes, failed to detect an obvious brain tumor on an MRI scan three years earlier. Had Dr. Hughes discovered the tumor in 2006, Gallegos could have treated it with cheaper, and less invasive, radiosurgery. The highly invasive cranial surgeries damaged Gallegos’s vision, hearing, and memory. Gallegos retained attorney Patric LeHouillier to sue Dr. Hughes for medical malpractice. But LeHouillier later decided not to proceed with the suit, concluding it did not make economic sense. He and Gallegos disagreed over whether he actually informed her of this decision, and the statute of limitations lapsed on the claims Gallegos could have brought against Dr. Hughes. Gallegos thereafter brought this attorney malpractice case against LeHouillier and his firm, claiming that LeHouillier’s negligence prevented her from successfully suing Dr. Hughes for medical malpractice. The question before the Colorado Supreme Court involved who bore the burden to prove that any judgment that could have been obtained against Dr. Hughes would have been collectible. The Supreme Court concluded that because the collectibility of the underlying judgment was essential to the causation and damages elements of a client’s negligence claim against an attorney, it held the client-plaintiff bore the burden of proving that the lost judgment in the underlying case was collectible. Here, the record reflected Gallegos failed to present sufficient evidence of collectibility. However, given the absence of a clear statement from the Supreme Court regarding plaintiff's burden to prove collectibility at the time of trial, and because the issue was not raised in this case until after Gallegos had presented her case-in-chief, the Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded for a new trial. View "LeHouillier v. Gallegos" on Justia Law

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Defendants sought ex parte interviews with a number of non-party medical providers in this medical malpractice action. Because of this, an issue arose regarding the scope of the physician–patient privilege in medical-malpractice actions. Section 13-90-107(1)(d), C.R.S. (2017), prohibited certain medical providers from revealing, in testimony or otherwise, information about a patient gathered in the course of treating that patient. That prohibition, however, was not unlimited. The dispute, as presented to the Colorado Supreme Court, did not implicate the physician–patient relationship between Kelley Bailey (“Bailey”) and Defendants, meaning section 107(1)(d)(I) was inapplicable. Instead, the issue here was whether the non-party medical providers were “in consultation with” Defendants such that section 107(1)(d)(II) removed that typically privileged information from the protection of the physician–patient privilege. The Supreme Court held the non-party medical providers were not in consultation with Defendants for the purposes of section 107(1)(d)(II). However, the Court remanded this case to the trial court for consideration of whether the Baileys impliedly waived the physician–patient privilege for the non-party medical providers. On remand, if the trial court concluded that the Baileys did waive that privilege, it should reconsider whether there is any risk that: (1) ex parte interviews with the non-party medical providers would inadvertently reveal residually privileged information; or (2) Defendants would exert undue influence on the non-party medical providers in the course of any ex parte interviews. View "In re Bailey v. Hermacinski" on Justia Law

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In 1997, Aaron sustained a catastrophic brain injury at birth due to the negligence of employees at Lee Memorial. The family retained the law firm, under a contingency fee agreement providing for payment of 40 percent of any recovery if a lawsuit was filed, plus costs, and stating that if "one of the parties to pay my claim for damages is a governmental agency, I understand that Federal and Florida Law may limit the amount of attorney fees ... in that event, I understand that the fees owed ... shall be the amount provided by law.” A jury awarded the child $28.3 million, the mother $1.34 million, and the father $1 million. Because the hospital was an independent special district of the state, the court enforced the sovereign immunity damage limitations and entered a judgment for $200,000, which was affirmed. The firm pursued a two-year lobbying effort to secure a claims bill from the Legislature. In 2012 the Legislature passed a claims bill, directing Lee Memorial to pay $10 million, with an additional $5 million to be paid in annual installments to a special needs trust for Aaron, stating that payment of fees and costs from those funds shall not exceed $100,000. No funds were awarded for the parents. The firm petitioned the guardianship court to approve a $2.5 million for attorneys’ fees and costs. The court denied the request. On appeal, the district court affirmed. The Supreme Court of Florida reversed, holding that the fee limitation in the claims bill is unconstitutional and may not stand when such a limitation impairs a preexisting contract. View "Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley. v. Florida" on Justia Law

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In 2001, the decedent presented to the Wetzel County Hospital Emergency Room in New Martinsville and came under the care of Dr. Murthy, a surgeon; she slipped into shock and died the next day. Her estate filed a medical negligence action, alleging that Murthy failed to perform exploratory surgery to identify, diagnose and correct the decedent’s “intraabdominal condition.” A jury awarded $4,000,000 in compensatory damages. After the trial, the circuit court allowed amendment of the complaint to add Murthy’s insurance carrier, Woodbrook, alleging that Woodbrook made all relevant decisions for Murthy’s defense and acted vexatiously and in bad faith. Following a remand, Murthy paid a reduced judgment, plus interest, in the total amount of $1,162,741.60 and filed motions in limine to preclude certain matters from consideration on the issue of attorney fees and costs, including an unrelated case that resulted in a $5,764,214.75 verdict against Dr. Murthy in March 2007. The court dismissed Woodbrook as a party-defendant and awarded the estate attorney fees and costs. The precise calculation was to be later determined. The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia reversed, concluding that the lower court’s reliance on certain conduct by Murthy did not justify the award. View "Murthy v. Karpacs-Brown" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a medical malpractice and wrongful death action against Defendants. Counsel for Defendants filed affidavits with the clerk of the Supreme Court seeking to disqualify Judge Frank Forchione from presiding over further proceedings in the pending case, alleging that Judge Forchione was prejudiced in favor of Plaintiff because he granted Plaintiff's motion to strike Defendants' jury demand and because the judge lacked judicial objectivity. The Supreme Court denied the affidavits of disqualification, holding (1) rulings that are adverse to a party in a pending case are not grounds for disqualification; and (2) the record did not demonstrate the judge was partial to Plaintiff or that he had a bias against Defendants or their counsel. View "In re Disqualification of Forchione" on Justia Law

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Appellant, the representative of a decedent's estate, hired attorneys David Mushlin and William Nefzger and their law firm to pursue a medical negligence claim against a hospital and several physicians. The trial court later disqualified Mushlin on the ground that Mushlin's prior representation of the hospital was sufficient to create a conflict of interest or at least the appearance of impropriety. The court also noted that Nefzger and the entire firm were conflicted because Mushlin could not effectively be screened from the case and there was a great likelihood of his having constant contact with the other attorneys who would be working on the case in his stead. Appellant subsequently filed a petition for a writ of prohibition, which the court of appeals denied. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Appellant failed to show she would suffer great injustice and irreparable injury from the trial court's order disqualifying her lawyer and his law firm from representing her. View "Robertson v. Circuit Court" on Justia Law

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Attorneys Post and Reid were retained to defend a medical malpractice action. At trial, plaintiffs introduced evidence suggesting that Post and Reid had engaged in discovery misconduct. Fearing that the jury believed that there had been a “cover-up” involving its lawyers, and concerned with the “substantial potential of uninsured punitive exposure,” the hospital, represented by new counsel, settled the case for $11 million, which represented the full extent of its medical malpractice policy limits. The settlement did not release Post, Reid, the law firm where they began representation of the hospital, or their new firm from liability. The hospital threatened Post with a malpractice suit and sought sanctions. Post eventually brought claims of bad faith and breach of contract against his legal malpractice insurer. The district court awarded $921,862.38 for breach of contract. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the insurer on the bad faith claim and remanded for recalculation of the award, holding that, under the policy, the insurer is responsible for all costs incurred by Post in connection with the hospital’s malpractice claim from October 12, 2005 forward and for all costs incurred by Post to defend the sanctions proceedings from February 8, 2006 forward. View "Post v. St. Paul Travelers Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Appellant Harrill & Sutter filed a complaint in the circuit court alleging a violation of Arkansas's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Appellant had previously filed a medical-malpractice action against three physicians, who were employed by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). Mariam Hopkins was hired to represent the physicians. Appellant subsequently filed a FOIA request asserting that because Hopkins represented public employees, Hopkins's file was a public record. Hopkins refused to allow Appellant to inspect the file, and Appellant filed the present case. The circuit court found (1) Hopkins, her firm, and the physicians were not the custodians for the FOIA request to UAMS or to the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees; (2) Appellees did not have administrative control of the public records of those entities; (3) the records sought by Appellant were not public records under FOIA and, therefore, were not subject to a FOIA request; and (4) the litigation files and documents sought by the FOIA request were subject to attorney-client privilege and were work-product. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in finding that FOIA did not apply. View "Harrill & Sutter, PLLC v. Farrar" on Justia Law

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Ketan Bulsara filed a medical-malpractice and wrongful-death action against Dr. Julia Watkins stemming from the stillbirth of his child. A jury returned a judgment in favor of Dr. Watkins. The trial court subsequently denied Bulsara's motion for new trial. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred in denying Bulsara's motion for a new trial where Bulsara demonstrated a reasonable possibility of prejudice in light of defense counsel's continued representation of Dr. Watkins after the filing of Bulsara's lawsuit while in possession of confidential information from an expert who previously consulted with Bulsara and his former counsel, in contravention of the Court's rules. View "Bulsara v. Watkins" on Justia Law