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Court Discusses Proximate Cause in New York Medical Malpractice Cases Involving Multiple Defendants

Many times when a person presents to the emergency room of a hospital, multiple doctors will render treatment and care to the person. Thus, if the person subsequently suffers harm because the care provided was inadequate, there may be more than one care provider liable for the person’s harm. If a plaintiff cannot establish that the negligence of an individual defendant proximately caused the plaintiff’s damages, though, the plaintiff’s claims against that defendant will be dismissed. This was demonstrated in a recent case in which the court granted summary judgment to an emergency room physician, ruling that any negligence on behalf of the physician did not harm the plaintiff’s decedent. If you or a loved one sustained harm due to inadequate care in a hospital, it is prudent to consult a trusted Syracuse hospital malpractice attorney to discuss your case.

Factual Background

It is alleged that the plaintiff’s decedent presented to the emergency department of the defendant hospital with complaints of chest pain. He was initially evaluated by the first defendant emergency room physician, who ordered numerous tests. However, she did not order a CT scan, due to the fact that she felt a CT scan should not be conducted until after the decedent’s lab results were returned. The defendant emergency room doctor’s shift ended prior to her receiving the decedent’s lab results.

Reportedly, the decedent’s care was then turned over to the second defendant emergency room physician, who requested a consultation with the defendant cardiologist. The defendant cardiologist performed an aortogram to determine if the decedent had an aortic dissection. No CT scan was performed at that time. The decedent was ultimately discharged with suspected deep venous thrombosis and directed to follow up with a thrombosis clinic in two days. Three days after his discharge, the decedent died of hemopericardium due to a ruptured dissection of the aorta. The plaintiff subsequently filed a lawsuit against the defendants asserting claims of medical malpractice and wrongful death. The defendants filed motions for summary judgment.

Proximate Cause in Medical Malpractice Cases

The first defendant emergency room physician argued that she was entitled to dismissal as a matter of law because she did not depart from the applicable standard of care. Rather, she asserted, she started a plan of care that should have culminated in a correct diagnosis. In response, the plaintiff argued that the first defendant emergency room physician deviated from the standard of care because she failed to order a CT scan, which would have revealed the decedent’s aortic dissection. The plaintiff also argued that the first defendant emergency room physician’s breach of the standard of care proximately caused the decedent’s death, as the aortic dissection could have been surgically repaired if it was diagnosed in a timely manner.

On review, the court noted that if a third party’s negligent act is an unforeseeable result of a defendant’s negligence, the third party’s negligence is a superseding act that relieves the defendant of liability. Thus, the defendant’s negligence will not be a proximate cause where it did not cause an unrelated act that ultimately caused the plaintiff’s harm. The court stated that while proximate cause is normally an issue for a jury, in cases where the record clearly establishes a superseding act caused the plaintiff’s harm, summary judgment is appropriate. The court found that regardless of whether the first defendant emergency room physician was negligent, the aortogram conducted by the defendant cardiologist should have revealed the decedent’s aortic dissection. Thus, the defendant cardiologist’s negligence was a superseding act that removed liability from the first defendant emergency room physician.

Confer with a Diligent Malpractice Attorney

If you sustained injuries due to negligent care provided in a hospital, it is wise to confer with a diligent Syracuse hospital malpractice attorney regarding your damages. The knowledgeable attorneys of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP Personal Injury Lawyers will work tirelessly to help you seek the full amount of compensation you may be owed. We can be reached at 833-200-2000 or through our form online to set up a meeting.

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