On February 14, 2017, the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington Division Three (“Appellate Court”) affirmed the trial court granting summary judgment to the medical malpractice defendants, finding that the affidavit of the plaintiff’s medical expert that was submitted in opposition to the defendants’ summary judgment motions had failed to provide competent expert testimony on the issues of standard of care, causation, and damages.
The Plaintiff’s Medical Malpractice Claims
The decedent was treated for chest pains in April 2010. Medical testing and imaging reports as well as laboratory results showed positive tuberculosis cultures from the decedent’s sputum sample, and additional sputum testing was positive for tuberculosis. A physician then prescribed the decedent medications for the treatment of tuberculosis, including Isoniazid, also known as isonicotinylhydrazide (INH).
The plaintiff and her medical expert alleged that the decedent did not suffer from tuberculosis but the decedent took the tuberculosis medications nonetheless. The defendant public health clinic where the decedent was treated alleged that it sought to monitor the decedent’s liver function but he failed to show for testing. After ingesting the prescribed drugs, the decedent suffered from nausea, vomiting, dizziness, lack of energy, and a loss of appetite, and his skin also changed to a reddish-yellow shade.
The plaintiff alleged that in June 2010, the decedent expressed a desire to discontinue taking the tuberculosis medications because of severe discomfort but a physician insisted that he continue taking the medications, under threat of incarceration if he failed to do so.
The decedent continued to receive medical care for tuberculosis in July and August 2010. In July 2010, the decedent’s condition worsened: he became unable to walk, drive, or eat; he experienced body shakes, hand tremors, and confusion; and, his abdomen swelled, all of which he reported to his medical providers. The medical providers then discovered serious deviations in his laboratory results. The decedent died of liver failure on August 6, 2010.
The plaintiff’s Washington medical malpractice lawsuit against the public health clinic and one of its physicians alleged medical negligence and wrongful death. The defendants moved for summary judgment, contending that the plaintiff lacked expert medical testimony to support her claim of medical malpractice. In response to the summary judgment motions, the plaintiff filed a declaration by her medical expert, who is a licensed physician in the State of Washington who owns an internal medical clinic in Yakima. The plaintiff’s expert specializes in the areas of complex medical patients with chronic pain symptoms, geriatric patients, and internal medicine patients.
The trial court concluded that the detailed declaration of the plaintiff’s medical expert nonetheless failed to provide competent expert testimony on the issues of standard of care, causation, and damages, and therefore granted the defendants’ motions. The plaintiff appealed.
The Appellate Court Decision
The Appellate Court concluded that the plaintiff’s medical expert’s declaration was insufficient because it failed to specify the standard of care in the state of Washington that the defendants purportedly violated and the manner in which the defendants ostensibly violated the standard: in her declaration, the plaintiff’s expert opined that the conduct of the defendant physician and defendant public health clinic constituted medical negligence and breached the standard of care but, nevertheless, failed to identify the discrete conduct of the defendants that violated the standard of care, and failed to declare the applicable standard. The Appellate Court stated, “We might be able to guess that she considered the defendants to breach the standard by failing to quickly diagnose liver disease and by prescribing tuberculosis medications. But we should not be left to guess. A conclusory affidavit does not defeat a summary judgment motion.”
Source Reyes v. Yakima Health District, No. 33697-2-III
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