Medical procedures are never an enjoyable process. However, the process becomes even more miserable when recuperation is delayed because of infections. Darrin Coulon found himself in this situation after receiving shoulder surgery in 2011 from Dr. Mark Juneau at the West Bank Surgery Center. His recovery became even more difficult as he navigated the complex procedural requirements of filing a medical malpractice claim.
After receiving shoulder surgery, an infection required Coulon to undergo numerous additional surgeries and treatments. As a result, Coulon and his wife filed a Request for Medical Review Panel, alleging medical malpractice. Specifically, Coulon alleged that (1) the Surgery Center failed to develop, maintain, and enforce appropriate policies to prevent infections and (2) the Surgery Center was liable under a theory of respondeat superior for its employees’ actions. The Medical Review Panel found no evidence that the Surgery Center or doctor failed to meet the required standard of care or did not maintain appropriate policies and procedures to prevent infections.
Coulon and his wife subsequently filed a lawsuit for damages against the Surgery Center. In addition to the claims previously raised for the Medical Review Panel, they added that the Surgery Center failed to supervise and train the nurses who treated Coulon. The Surgery Center responded by filing a partial exception of prematurity, claiming that the claims that they failed to train and supervise the nurses were premature because Coulon and his wife did not previously raise those claims in the Medical Review Panel complaint. Coulon and his wife argued that the language in the prior complaint was sufficiently broad to include the additional claims in their subsequent lawsuit for damages.
The trial court granted the Surgery Center’s partial exception of prematurity. The trial court found that although the language in the subsequent lawsuit did not have to be identical to the language from the initial complaint, there could not be “entirely new theories of liability.” Coulon and his wife sought review, but the court of appeal denied their request, finding that the trial court correctly sustained the exception of prematurity in light of the information presented to the Medical Review Panel. They then appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Under Louisiana law, before someone can file a lawsuit alleging medical negligence, there must first be a medical review panel. See La. R.S. 40:1231.8(A)(1)(a). A medical review panel offers an expert opinion about whether the evidence supports the conclusion that the defendant(s) did not act within the required standard of care. A court should grant an exception of prematurity if the cause of action is not yet ripe for judicial determination. See La. C.C.P. art. 926.
The question at issue, in this case, was whether Coulon and his wife satisfied the requirement in La. R.S. 40:1231.8(A)(1)(b) of providing a description of the alleged malpractice. The Surgery Center argued that there was not a brief description of the purported malpractice involving failure to supervise and train the nurses. But on the other hand, Coulon and his wife argued that the description related to their theories of direct and vicarious liability encompassed the required details for the claim about failure to supervise and train the nurses.
The Louisiana Supreme Court ultimately agreed with Coulon and his wife, finding that they had provided broad enough allegations to include the claims related to the Surgery Center’s purported failure to train and supervise Coulon’s nurses. Moreover, the court specifically pointed to Coulon’s inclusion of liability under the theory of respondeat superior, which attaches liability to the employer when there is some fault from employees in the scope of their employment. See La. C.C. art. 2320. Therefore, the Medical Review Panel understood that its review also covered actions from the Surgery Center’s employees, such as the nurses. Thus, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s grant of the Surgery Center’s exception of prematurity.
Recovery from surgery is a difficult path, especially when you also have to navigate the complexities of a medical malpractice claim. A good attorney can help ensure you follow the proper procedures for your day in court.
Additional Sources: Coulon v. Endurance Risk Partners, Inc.
Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Medical Malpractice: How Do You Pass Summary Judgment in a Medical Malpractice Case?