The State of Michigan Court of Appeals (“Michigan Appellate Court”) stated in its unreported opinion dated May 18, 2017 that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur may apply to a medical malpractice case where an unconscious patient is under the care of a surgical team.
The Underlying Facts
The plaintiff underwent a lumbar laminectomy on December 13, 2011 during which the defendant anesthesiologist provided anesthesia services. The defendant anesthesiologist testified in his deposition that he was responsible for positioning the plaintiff and for monitoring the plaintiff during his surgery.
When the plaintiff awoke from surgery, he noticed soreness in his left shoulder. The plaintiff was discharged from the hospital on December 14, 2011.
On December 15, 2011, the plaintiff experienced increased pain, weakness, and immobility in his left arm. He returned to the hospital, where he was found to have a cold left upper extremity and only passive range of motion. The plaintiff was admitted to the hospital, where his shoulder pain was controlled and treated with pain medication and injections. He was discharged on December 17, 2011.
On December 20, 2011, the plaintiff was treated by another doctor who noted that the plaintiff’s pain and weakness in his left shoulder since the surgery were probably related to interoperative positioning. An MRI on December 22, 2011 showed supraspinatus and infraspinatus tendinopathy and associated tears in the left shoulder, and neurological testing showed a decrease in function of the suprascapular nerve and supra and spinatus muscles.
All parties to the plaintiff’s Michigan medical malpractice lawsuit agreed that the surgical procedure itself did not cause the nerve injury in the plaintiff’s shoulder. The plaintiff’s theory was that the injury occurred during the time that he was under anesthesia. The plaintiff’s medical expert testified in his deposition that the plaintiff has a suprascapular nerve injury involving his left arm. The plaintiff’s expert also opined that the injury occurred as he was turned and positioned for the surgery, from pressure or positional abnormalities during the surgery, or in turning him at the conclusion of the surgery. The plaintiff’s expert conceded that he could not identify the specific mechanism of injury or the specific moment in time that it occurred but testified that the injury was of a kind which does not ordinarily occur without someone’s negligence.
The defendant anesthesiologist moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff could not establish medical malpractice because even his expert was uncertain as to how the injury occurred. The trial judge granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that the defendant anesiologist did not have exclusive control of the plaintiff during surgery. The plaintiff appealed.
Res Ipsa Loquitor
The Michigan Appellate Court stated that a plaintiff may rely on the res ipsa loquitur doctrine if: (1) the event was of a kind that ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone’s negligence; (2) it was caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant; (3) it was not caused by any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the plaintiff; and, (4) evidence of the true explanation of the event was more readily accessible to the defendant than to the plaintiff.
The Michigan Appellate Court stated that a prima facie res ipsa loquitur case proceeds on a theory that, but for negligence, the claimed injury does not ordinarily occur. If there is expert evidence that ‘but for’ negligence this result does not ordinarily occur, even if it is disputed, the Michigan Appellate Court stated that the jury is to determine whether the plaintiff has proven whether it is more likely than not that the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injury.
The Michigan Appellate Court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendant, holding that the defendant anesthesiologist acknowledged his responsibility for the positioning and monitoring that the plaintiff’s medical expert has linked to the plaintiff’s injury, and therefore a jury may find that but for the defendant anesthesiologist negligence the plaintiff would not have been injured.
Source Burns v. William Beaumont Hospital, No. 331347.
If you suffered injury as a result of surgical positioning in Michigan or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a Michigan medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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