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New York Court Discusses Grounds for Vacating Default Judgment in a Hospital Malpractice Case

Typically, courts aim to assess medical malpractice cases based on their merit. In other words, the courts will determine if either party has presented sufficient evidence in support of their position to obtain a judgment as a matter of law, or if the case should proceed to trial. In some instances, however, a court will grant a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff based on the defendant’s failure to comply with procedural requirements.  Recently, a New York appellate court assessed when a default judgment should be entered against a defendant for failing to respond to a plaintiff’s complaint in a hospital malpractice case. If you were harmed by negligent care you received in a hospital, it is advisable to meet with a proficient Syracuse hospital malpractice attorney regarding your potential causes of action.

Procedural History of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiff was struck by a vehicle, which required her to undergo bilateral leg amputations. She filed a lawsuit against the defendant driver, and five years later, amended the complaint to assert medical malpractice claims against the defendant hospital where she underwent her amputations and the defendant surgeons who participated in her amputation. Each of the defendants was served, and the defendant hospital and first defendant surgeon filed motions to dismiss. The second defendant surgeon did not respond. The court granted the defendant hospital and first surgeon’s motions to dismiss. The defendant hospital then moved to reargue that the claim against the second surgeon should be dismissed, and the plaintiff filed a cross-motion to enter a default judgment against the second surgeon. The court granted the plaintiff’s motion, and the defendant hospital appealed. Additionally, the second surgeon filed a motion to vacate the judgment due to an excusable delay.

Grounds for Entering a Default Judgment

On appeal, the court noted that the defendant hospital employed the second surgeon at the time of the alleged harm, and therefore found that the hospital had standing to seek vacatur of the order granting default judgment. The court went on to explain that a defendant seeking to vacate a default granted for the failure to answer or appear must demonstrate a valid excuse for the default and a defense to the action that is potentially meritorious. Whether an excuse for a failure to respond is reasonable lies within the discretion of the court. Factors considered in determining whether an excuse is reasonable include the duration of the delay, whether there was prejudice to the opposing party, the public policy in favor of resolving a case on the merits, and whether the defendant acted willfully.

In the subject case, the defendant stated that she was made aware of the plaintiff’s complaint by her current employer, after which she contacted the defendant hospital, who advised that a motion to dismiss would be filed on her behalf. As such, she took no other action. The court found her excuse to be reasonable, and therefore, vacated the default.

Confer with a Seasoned Syracuse Malpractice Attorney

If you sustained damages due to negligent care you received during a hospitalization, it is prudent to confer with a seasoned hospital malpractice attorney to discuss what damages you may be able to pursue. The experienced malpractice attorneys of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP Personal Injury Lawyers will zealously advocate on your behalf, to afford you a strong chance of a successful result under the facts of your case. We can be contacted via our form online or at 315-479-9000 to set up a conference.

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