It is no secret that a lawsuit has the potential to become a tangled web of procedural issues. This is why it is always a good idea to secure a good attorney with experience in dealing with the court system. Perhaps less common is the situation where the judge, the party responsible for ensuring an efficient and timely resolution of the dispute, gets tripped up in this procedural web. This is exactly the situation below.
The dispute centers on a medical malpractice claim. Ms. Johnson showed up to Tulane University Hospital and Clinic (Hospital) one evening suffering from a severe headache and double vision. The Hospital staff administered an IV in Johnson’s arm, which later became infected. The Hospital discharged her with some antibiotics and told her to follow up with her primary care physician. Ultimately, the infection worsened and required a more serious antibiotic treatment and even surgery. Johnson sued the Hospital and the nursing staff.
Johnson alleged six total negligence claims against the Hospital and the nurses. Pursuant to the Hospital’s summary judgment motion, the Trial Court dismissed all five allegations against the nursing staff but allowed one claim to proceed against the Hospital. That one claim pertained to the antibiotic dosage the Hospital prescribed to Johnson after her initial visit.
The Hospital again filed a summary judgment motion as to that one claim. At the same time, Johnson stipulated that the improper dosage claim was no longer an issue. Instead, Johnson requested to amend her petition as to the five negligence claims against the nursing staff because there was new expert testimony in the case supporting those five claims.
This is where the Trial Court errs. The Trial Court allowed Johnson to file a written motion to amend her petition contemporaneously with its instruction to the Hospital to draft a proposed judgment granting summary judgment as to the one improper dosage claim. The proposed judgment dismissed the Hospital from the lawsuit entirely yet was ultimately signed by the Trial Court. Meanwhile, the Trial Court also allowed the trial to continue as to the other five claims.
Johnson, noticing the Trial Court’s inconsistent rulings, filed a motion for new trial. See Bates v. City of New Orleans, 137 So.3d 774 (La. Ct. App. 2014); see also La. C.C.P. art. 1951. The Trial Court denied Johnson’s motion and Johnson timely appealed. The Court of Appeal’s job, strange as it may seem, was to interpret the Trial Court’s intent as if the Trial Court itself got confused as to what it was trying to accomplish.
The Court of Appeal noted that the Trial Court clearly intended to dismiss only the improper dosage claim and allow Johnson to bring back the other five negligence claims. When the Trial Court was given the opportunity to correct their error by allowing Johnson a new trial, it failed to do so. Thus, the Court of Appeal held that the Trial Court mistakenly allowed the Hospital to be dismissed from the case entirely, rather than only in regard to the improper dosage claim and reversed the judgment of the Trial Court denying Johnson’s motion for new trial.
As this case illustrates, sometimes even the Trial Court can make a mistake when it comes to procedural aspects of a lawsuit. The longer a lawsuit drags on the more convoluted it can become. This is why it’s so important to have a good attorney representing your interests. Perhaps a less experienced attorney than Ms. Johnson’s would have missed the deadline to file a motion for new trial and Ms. Johnson would have been left with no options.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Nicholas Ciani
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