No Relief for Post-Op Plaintiff Who Could Not Prove Standard of Care

When a healthcare provider is involved in an accident that harms a patient, the injured party can seek relief in court. But a medical malpractice plaintiff must be able to show the standard of care that applies to the particular provider in question. In Blood v. Southwest Medical Center, a recent case arising out of Lafayette, Louisiana, one unfortunate plaintiff learned this lesson the hard way.

Hershel Blood was a patient in the post-operative care of Regional Medical Center of Acadiana (“RMCA”) when two nurses moved him from his hospital bed to a reclining surgical chair. Just after they placed the plaintiff in the chair, Nurse Rachelle Sorlie attempted to recline it to the first position. But instead of reclining just slightly, the chair suddenly snapped backwards, abruptly extending much farther than the nurse intended.

The plaintiff claimed that this sudden motion caused him to suffer permanent back injuries. He complained to the Louisiana Patient’s Compensation Fund, and a Medical Review Panel ruled in RMCA’s favor, finding that no evidence indicated that the hospital improperly inspected or operated the surgical chair.

Blood then sued RMCA for medical malpractice, and the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of RMCA and dismissed all of Blood’s claims. Blood appealed, and the case went to the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal.

Blood made three allegations on appeal: (1) that RMCA failed to completely transfer him from the hospital bed to the surgical chair; (2) that he did not need expert evidence to overcome summary judgment; and (3) that the nurse had a duty to visually and physically inspect the chair before placing him in it.

As to the first allegation, that RMCA failed to properly complete the transfer to the chair, the court sided with RMCA, because Blood himself had testified that he was already sitting in the chair when the accident occurred.

Next, the court determined whether Blood needed to present expert testimony to prove the standard of care. The court rejected Blood’s allegation that the opinion of the Panel below required the court to hold no expert evidence necessary, as Blood did not raise the issue before the Panel, and even if he had, the Panel’s opinion had no binding effect on the court.

Blood also argued that his case fell under an exception to the requirement of expert testimony in medical malpractice cases. The court found it unnecessary to address this argument, because it went on to hold that the evidence Blood did present was insufficient to survive summary judgment.

Finally, the court moved to the issue of the standard of care. To survive a summary judgment motion, Blood had to provide some evidence that he could meet his burden at trial. To prevail at trial, he would have to establish the standard of care applicable to RMCA, show that RMCA breached that standard of care, and demonstrate a causal connection between the breach and his resulting injury.

Blood alleged that Nurse Sorlie had a duty to visually and physically inspect the surgical chair before using it. To prove the standard of care, he presented an affidavit from a registered nurse. The nurse claimed to be familiar with the specific chair used by RMCA and stated that “failure to perform both visual and physical examination of equipment falls below the applicable standard of care.”

The court concluded that while the nurse’s affidavit did establish the standard of care, it did not establish that that standard of care applied to Nurse Sorlie specifically. The affidavit merely stated that “it is necessary” to inspect the chair, without stating by whom it is necessary. In fact, Nurse Sorlie testified that she believed the hospital’s maintenance department inspected the chairs, and Blood offered no evidence to contradict her. As a result, the court held that Blood failed to present any evidence that he would be able to prove the applicable standard of care at trial.

If you suffered an injury at the hands of a healthcare provider, contact the Berniard Law Firm. Providing the best experts in personal injury law, our law firm is fully capable of meeting your litigation needs and getting you the relief you deserve.