Medical Malpractice Case Shows Importance of Laws, Standard of Care Governing Civil Suits

Medical malpractice cases often turn on whether the plaintiff can establish that the health care provider breached the standard of care. Louisiana’s Medical Malpractice Act governs the conduct of health care professionals and mandates that the standard of care owed is that of the average member of the profession under similar circumstances. For the Act to apply, the defendant must be a qualified health care provider. Determining if this is a provider, and if the plaintiff has rights, are two of the most important factors that hiring a competent attorney can help guarantee when filing a case.

At issue in Ruby “Nell” Coleman vs. La Terre Physical Therapy, Inc., D/B/A Terrebonne Physical Therapy Clinic and Donald P. Kinnard, P.T., was the standard of care owed to patients of physical therapists. The plaintiff, Ruby Coleman, attended physical therapy with the defendants following a total knee replacement. Mrs. Coleman sustained injuries to her left knee during physical therapy exercises on a Continuous Passive Range of Motion machine. After it was discovered that Mrs. Coleman sustained a fracture to her knee, she underwent surgery. Afterwards, Coleman filed suit against the defendants, alleging that her injuries were caused by physical therapist Mr. Kinnard’s failure to obtain a complete medical history, which would have revealed she suffered from severe osteoporosis. In her suit, Coleman claimed that if Kinnard had done so, he would have administered a safer method of physical therapy. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Coleman did not show the treatment fell below the applicable standard of care.

The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the grounds that expert witness testimony supported the conclusion that the applicable standard of care was not breached. The plaintiff appealed, but the Louisiana Court of Appeal, First Circuit, affirmed the decision of the lower court. The Court cited Boudreaux v. Panger, in which the Louisiana Supreme Court held that a chiropractor, although not subject to the Medical Malpractice Act, is judged by the standard of his or her profession and, therefore, general negligence is not available as a basis of recovery. Therefore, Mrs. Coleman could not prove the elements of general negligence (i.e., duty, breach, causation, and damages) but was required to show that Mr. Kinnard failed to act in accordance with the standard of care practiced by his peers in the same locality under similar circumstances.

Mrs. Coleman’s expert witness testified that if Kinnard utilized a safer method of physical therapy, such as the passive manual stretch, sustaining a fracture to her femur was still possible. Since Coleman was unable to show that failing to obtain a complete medical history caused her harm, the appellate court concluded that the defendants were entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.

This case demonstrates the importance of consulting an attorney who is knowledgeable of the appropriate standard of care in medical malpractice cases. Since plaintiffs have the burden of proving a breach occurred, filing a lawsuit without knowing your chances of prevailing might cost you considerable time and resources. Our experienced attorneys will be able to recommend the best course of action to take in a given case.

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