Lawsuits are filed every day. However, not all of these lawsuits are worth the attention of the courts. Courts are already swamped with dozens and dozens of cases on their dockets and they cannot afford–both monetarily and temporally–to hear every case that comes to their courtrooms. As a result, courts allow parties to file a motion for summary judgment, which allows courts to drop a lawsuit if there is no issue of material fact among the parties.
Petrie and Bertha Thompson’s one-year-old daughter Jessica Thompson passed away three days after being taken to The Center for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, L.L.C. (The Center) in Thibodaux. Jessica was examined by The Center’s nurse practitioner Gaudin. The Thompsons accused Gaudin of providing substandard care to Jessica. More specifically, the Thompsons alleged that Gaudin administered immunizations that should not have been administered. The Thompsons argued that Jessica passed away because of these immunizations and sued Gaudin, the Center, and HP, who was Gaudin’s alleged supervisor.
A medical review panel reviewed the Thompsons’ claims against HP and The Center and found that there was no breach of the applicable standard of care and that the administered immunizations were appropriate for Jessica. After the release of the panel’s findings, Gaudin filed a motion for summary judgment. The Thompsons responded with an affidavit of Dr. Robert S. Chabon who opined that, contrary to the panel’s findings, that Gaudin’s administration of the vaccinations did indeed cause Jessica’s death. Gaudin argued that Dr. Chabon’s affidavit was untimely, not in proper form, and conclusory and thus the Trial Court should not accept the affidavit into evidence. Though the Trial Court accepted the affidavit, it found the affidavit to be insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact and thus granted Gaudin’s motion for summary judgment.
According to La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 966A(3), a trial court shall grant a party’s motion for summary judgment if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. For a party to succeed on its motion for summary judgment, it must at least show that the adverse party does not have factual support for one or more elements essential to the adverse party’s claim. If the moving party is able to show this, the adverse party must provide facts to support that there is a genuine issue of material fact or that the mover is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 966D(1). There is a genuine issue of material fact if there is a fact in the case that can determine the outcome of the legal dispute. Smith v. Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, Inc., 639 So. 2d 730, 751 (La. 1994). For a plaintiff to succeed in a medical malpractice claim, he or she must show that the defendant breached the standard of care applicable to the defendant and that the breach caused the claimed injury.
First, the Appellate Court noted that Gaudin initially and sufficiently showed that the Thompsons lacked factual support for at least one of the elements of a medical malpractice claim. The Appellate Court then stated that the Thompsons had to rebut Gaudin by showing that there is factual support for their claim. The Appellate Court held that the Thompsons showed such factual support with Dr. Chabon’s affidavit. It stated that the Dr. Chabon’s affidavit contained facts that addressed an essential element to the Thompsons’ claim. Because the affidavit contained such facts and the facts would allow a reasonable juror to conclude that Gaudin breached his duty of care, the Appellate Court ruled that the Trial Court was in error by granting summary judgment without further considering the affidavit.
Because frivolous lawsuits are filed every day in the courts, the motion for summary judgment is a vital part of the American legal system. However, it is not something that should be granted on a whim as it can lead to a miscarriage of justice. Fortunately for the Thompsons, the Appellate Court reversed the Trial Court’s decision to grant Gaudin’s motion for summary judgment so that the Thompsons could have their day in court.
Additional Sources: Thompson v. The Center for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, L.L.C.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Peter Lee
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