Louisiana District Court Erred in Granting Motion for Summary Judgment for Doctor-Defendants

hospital-02-1505482-1-1024x768When we think of the practice of law, we may think of flashy lawyers in the courtroom arguing against one another with impassioned rhetoric. In reality, the law practice is not that glamorous. In many cases, there are no trials, and a judge simply hands down a judgment without any theatrics. Summary judgment is an example. Summary judgments occur when there are no factual disputes between parties, thus forgoing the need for a trial. However, to obtain summary judgment, a party must file a motion for summary judgment. In the case below, we will see how a Louisiana Appellate Court decided that the District Court erred in granting a motion for summary judgment.

Carolyn C. Harris had terrible stomach pains and went to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center to receive treatment. Her first doctor, Dr. B, examined her on December 29, 2008, and scheduled a colonoscopy the next day. However, due to unanticipated conflicts, the colonoscopy was rescheduled for January 5. In the meanwhile, Harris began to suffer from a respiratory illness and was moved to the ICU. On January 5, 2009, her second doctor, Dr. C, performed the delayed colonoscopy. During the colonoscopy, Harris’s colon was perforated. She began to vomit, and soon after, she went into cardiac arrest and died. Harris’s representatives sued the doctors for medical malpractice, but the doctors responded with a motion for summary judgment, which the District Court granted. Harris’s representatives appealed.

In Louisiana, summary judgment is applicable only when there are no factual disputes between the parties according to the evidence submitted. Also, the person filing the motion for summary judgment must be able to obtain a judgment under the applicable law. La. C.C.P. art. 966(B)(2). The applicable law, in this case, is the list of requirements for a plaintiff to file a claim for medical malpractice. A plaintiff suing for medical malpractice must show by a preponderance of the evidence that there was a standard of care applicable to the defendant, that the defendant failed to meet that care, and the failure to meet that care led to the injury or death. La. R.S. 9:2794. For a defendant to succeed in a summary judgment motion in a medical malpractice case, the defendant has to show that the plaintiff cannot show at trial at least one of the above through the preponderance of evidence.

The Appellate Court found that the defendants, in this case, did not meet this requirement. In a medical malpractice claim, the plaintiff generally has to bring in expert medical testimony. Fagan v. LeBlanc, 928 So.2d 571, 575 (La. App. Ct. 2006). The Appellate Court found that the defendant’s medical expert presented evidence that showed that the plaintiff could possibly show with a preponderance of evidence that the doctors committed malpractice. Therefore, there were possible factual disputes, and thus the District Court’s decision to grant a motion for summary judgment was incorrect.

The reason why we allow judges to make summary judgments is to prevent needless trials. However, in many cases, trials are the only way to resolve an issue. Here, the Appellate Court decided that the defendants’ argument for summary judgment was too tenuous to allow a trial-less judgment.

Additional Sources: Harris v. Louisiana Medical Mutual Insurance Company

Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Peter Lee

Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on Summary Judgment: Summary Judgment Lets Doctor off Hook in Louisiana Medical Malpractice Case