Losing a family member just a few shorts weeks after the family member was discharged from surgery can cause one to wonder if the death occurred due to medical malpractice. Providing expert medical testimony can often be essential to succeeding in a medical malpractice lawsuit, and certainly in the case of defending against a summary judgement motion due to failing to provide such an expert.
On June 14th, 2012, Dr. Surakanti performed an angioplasty surgery on Ms. Shepherd, who was 74 years old, diabetic, morbidly obese, and unable to walk at the time of the surgery. Three weeks after Ms. Shepherd was discharged from Our Lady of The Lake Regional Medical Center (“OLOL”), she passed away. The heirs of Ms. Shepherd (“Plaintiffs”), filed a lawsuit against Dr. Rodney, Dr, Surakanti, Baton Rouge Cardiology Center, and OLOL. The plaintiffs alleged in the lawsuit that the angioplasty performed on Ms. Shepherd by Dr. Surakanti was unnecessary, and that the procedure amounted to medical malpractice. The plaintiffs sought all general and special damages that they could legally recover in their lawsuit.
In response to the lawsuit, Dr. Rodney, Dr. Surakanti, and Baton Rouge Cardiology Center filed motions for summary judgement. These three parties claimed that the plaintiffs were unable to provide evidence to support the claims of the medical malpractice lawsuit for three reasons. First, a Medical Review Panel had already determined that the standard of care provided to Ms. Shepherd was not breached. Second, the plaintiffs did not provide an expert witness to testify that the standard of care was breached. Third, lack of consent to the procedure could not be proven because such evidence had to come in the form of testimony from an expert witness. OLOL filed a separate summary judgement motion for the same reasons.
The plaintiffs did not provide any evidence to rebut the summary judgement motions and failed to appear for the hearing of both summary judgement motions. The trial court granted the defendants’ summary judgement motions, therefore dismissing the plaintiffs’ lawsuit. Plaintiffs then appealed the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgement motions.
The issue for the First Circuit Court of Appeal of Louisiana to decide was whether the plaintiffs were required to provide medical expert testimony in support of their lawsuit for medical malpractice.
If the party that makes a summary judgement motion does not have the burden of proof at trial, then the party that made the motion can point out that the adverse party is unable to provide evidence that supports one or more essential elements of the adverse party’s claim. La. C.C.P. art. 966D(1). If the adverse party that has the burden of proof at trial is unable to provide evidence to support the essential elements to the claim, then the summary judgement motion should be granted, and the lawsuit dismissed. La. C.C.P. art. 966D(1). The substantive law of the lawsuit is what determines the type of evidence is required to be considered an essential element to a claim. Pumphrey v. Harris, 111 So.3d 89 (La. Ct. App. 2012).
In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the plaintiff must show that the adverse party breached the standard of care required and that the injury occurred due to the adverse party failing to provide the standard of care required. La. R.S. 9:2794(A). Expert testimony is required to show that the adverse party breached the standard of care required during medical treatment, unless the failure to meet the standard of care is so obvious that a person with no legal knowledge could determine that negligent medical treatment occurred. Penn v. CarePoint Partners of Louisiana, 181 So.3d 30 (La. Ct. App. 2015).
The Court of Appeal determined from the record that the plaintiffs were required to provide expert testimony in response to the summary judgement motion. The Court of Appeal came to this decision because a person with no legal knowledge could not have determined on their own that negligent medical treatment occurred. Since the plaintiffs did not provide expert testimony that the standard of care was breached, they were unable to provide sufficient evidence for a required element of their medical malpractice lawsuit. The Court of Appeal also noted that the Medical Review Panel determined that none of the defendants’ failed to provide the standard of care required of them in medical treatment. The Court of Appeal therefore affirmed the trial court’s decision to grant the defendants’ summary judgement motions, thus dismissing the lawsuit.
Providing expert testimony, more often than not, can be critical to support a medical malpractice claim. Due to the complexity of a number of medical treatments, a party should not presume that a medical expert is not required to support a medical malpractice lawsuit. An attorney with vast knowledge is essential to the success of a medical malpractice lawsuit, as well as defending against summary judgement motions from adverse parties in response to such a lawsuit.
Additional Sources: CURTIS SHEPHERD SR., DEBRA WILLIAMS, MICHAEL SHEPHERD, LINDA SHEPHERD, NATHANIEL SHEPHERD JR., STEPHEN SHEPHERD, CHRISTOPHER SHEPHERD, AND RODNEY SHEPHERD, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS THE HERIS OF NADINE SHEPHERD AND ON BEHALF OF THE ESTATE OF NADINE SHEPHERD VERSUS BATON ROUGE CARDIOLOGY CENTER, DR. RODNEY EVENS, DR. VENKAT SURAKANTI, OUR LADY OF THE LAKE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, [AND EAST] BATON ROUGE PARISH EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Brandon Tuley
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