Duty of Care Doctors Owe their Patients and Medical Malpractice

The level of care required of medical practitioners is very high. This is because people put their trust, and sometimes their lives and well being in the hands of a doctor or surgeon. The level of care is high because we must attain the very best from the people who perform the most delicate and important tasks the affect our lives. This is true of doctors, lawyers, and anyone else who has the position of a fiduciary. When the level of care falls below the bare minimum, the result can be disastrous. In a recent case, Ronald and Peggy Bianchi v. Dr. Ernesto Kufoy, the Third Circuit Louisiana Court of Appeal had to decide whether damages done to a patient were a result of the doctor’s negligence or were an acceptable outcome of the procedure.

On October 30, 2002, Mr. Bianchi went to Dr. Kufoy for a cataract surgery and the implantation of an artificial lens in the right eye. The lining of the old lens was to remain intact so as to allow the placement of the new artificial lens on that lining. However, during the surgery, the old lining was torn out. It was found that this could occur without any negligence. Another artificial lens was used due to this complication, and it was not argued that anything had occurred during this setback that amounted to medical negligence. When Mr. Bianchi returned for his post surgery check-up, he complained of pain in his right eye. Dr. Kufoy checked the eye, but did not investigate the cause of the pain and the resulting loss of eye sight. Over the course of the next few days, Mr. Bianchi’s eye pain increased. When he came to see Dr. Kufoy next, Dr. Kufoy diagnosed him with a form of glaucoma and referred him to a specialist. By the time he went to the first specialist, Dr. Jeff Lanier, Biachi had only light perception in his right eye. This was one step above total blindness. Dr. Lanier disagreed with Dr. Kufoy’s glaucoma diagnosis, and found that there was a hemorrhage in the choroid, which likely began during the initial surgery. The second specialist drained the hemorrhage.

At trial, the jury found that Dr. Kufoy’s actions were lower than the level of care required by his profession. The jury also found that there were clear damages to Mr. and Mrs. Bianchi. In a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff has two levels of burden. First, plaintiff must prove by preponderance of the evidence that the doctor’s treatment fell below the standard of care required for the profession. Second, the plaintiff must prove that the sub-par standard of care resulted in the injury. The jury based its determination that there was no causation shown on the fact that there was contradicting evidence. The Appellate Court cited to the standards it was using to judge the jury’s determination:

When different medical procedures are involved, the defendant is liable not only for harm resulting from his substandard treatment, but for subsequent treatment that seeks to resolve the original harm. Under the appropriate standard of review, we do not consider only so much of the evidence as will uphold or undermine the judgment, but rather the whole of the evidence with an eye to determining whether the judgment is plainly wrong.

The plaintiff does not necessarily have to show that all the damage was as a direct result of the doctor’s negligence. Rather, what can be shown is that due to Dr. Kufoy’s negligent treatment, there was a loss of a chance of a better medical outcome. Based on the record, when Mr. Bianchi came in for his post-surgery check-up, Dr. Kufoy’s failure, on multiple occasions, to diagnose the cause of the eye pain and loss of vision resulted in a much more dire situation by the time Mr. Bianchi received treatment by specialists. The trial court focused on actions taken by Dr. Kufoy at the time of surgery and found that none of the actions by themselves amounted to negligence. However, the record must be viewed in its totality, which shows that the post-op steps taken by Dr. Kufoy were insufficient under reasonable standards of care, which resulted in a loss of a chance of a better medical outcome. The Appellate Court reversed the decision of the jury.

If you feel you have received substandard medical care that has resulted in pain or aggravation of prior symptoms, your first course of action should be to seek a second opinion of a medical specialist. Your second court of action should be to seek legal advice.

Also, call the Berniard Law Firm at 1-866-574-8005 to speak to an attorney who can help.