In a February 11, 2015 Decision and Order of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Clinton County (“Court”), the Court held that summary judgment is not appropriate in a medical malpractice action where there exist conflicting medical expert opinions because credibility issues can only be resolved by a jury.
The Underlying Facts
On July 5, 2011, the then 45-year-old plaintiff underwent laparoscopic surgery to remove cysts on her ovaries. The surgical procedure involved the placement of a 10 centimeter trocar in the suprapubic area where there was a previous laparoscopic incision from a prior tubal ligation.
The defendant surgeon described encountering some resistance as the trocar entered the peritoneal cavity and admitted that the additional pressure caused the trocar to penetrate deeper than he intended. The defendant surgeon alleged that he inspected the segment of bowel in question with a probe to confirm that it had not been injured, after which he proceeded with removal of the cysts. The defendant surgeon claimed that he found no injury to the plaintiff’s bowel.
On July 8, 2011, the plaintiff returned to the hospital, was examined by the defendant surgeon, and was admitted, where on July 9, 2011 an x-ray indicated a possible bowel obstruction. That evening, the defendant surgeon assisted in surgery in which a 5-6 millimeter perforation was found together with a partial thickness injury to the small bowel within approximately 2 centimeters of the perforation that were repaired by removal of a portion of the plaintiff’s bowel.
The plaintiff filed her New York medical malpractice case against the surgeon and others, alleging, in part, that the decision by the defendant surgeon to proceed at all after he confronted resistance at the trocar entry point was a breach of the standard of care that led to her injuries.
The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that the defendants did not deviate from accepted standards of care or, if they did, that such deviation did not cause any injury to the plaintiff. In support of his motion for summary judgment, the defendant surgeon stated that he performed the surgery properly, that his surgical site selection and his decision to proceed were appropriate, that a bowel injury is a known risk of the procedure, that he appropriately checked for a bowel injury, and that a bowel perforation is not always detectable.
The plaintiff’s medical expert countered that the surgical site selection was initially appropriate but, given the evidence of bowel adhering to the underside of the previously used incision, the decision to exert pressure anyway and proceed was a deviation which led to the plaintiff’s bowel injury.
The Court’s Decision
The Court noted that the defendant surgeon’s opinions “strikingly clash” with the plaintiff’s medical records, the substantial deposition testimony presented, and the plaintiff’s own uncontradicted expert’s opinion that criticized the defendant surgeon’s decision to press on through the previous incision site that was a breach of the standard of care.
The Court stated that the party opposing the motion for summary judgment is afforded the benefit of every reasonable inference which may properly be drawn from the facts presented, and the facts must be considered in a light most favorable to the nonmovant. Furthermore, a motion for summary judgment must be denied where different inferences may be drawn from undisputed facts, or where the facts in a case are in dispute, or where an issue depends upon the credibility of witnesses.
Therefore, in the present case, the Court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
Source Mitchell v. Dodge, 2012-0441, NYLJ 1202719990534.
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