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New York Appellate Court Directs Entry of Order So-Ordering Stipulation of Dismissal But Allows Medical Malpractice Defendants’ Cross Claims

A Syracuse medical malpractice case may involve allegations against multiple defendants – a hospital, one or more doctors, and possibly other healthcare providers, as well. Generally speaking, the more defendants there are in a case, the more expensive and time-consuming the litigation is likely to be. For this reason, a plaintiff may opt to dismiss his or her claims against one or more defendants and proceed against those remaining.

In some cases, the defendants themselves may oppose such a measure and may file a cross claim aimed at keeping a co-defendant actively engaged in the lawsuit so as to have the option of shifting – or at least sharing – liability and blame if the case proceeds to trial.

Facts of the Case

A recent appellate case originating in the Supreme Court of Westchester County, the plaintiffs sought to assert a medical malpractice claim against a doctor and medical center following the death of their decedent from a stroke. According to the plaintiff’s complaint, the doctor (who was an emergency room attending physician at the medical center) negligently failed to recognize the symptoms of a stroke, thereby contributing to the decedent’s death. Four years after filing their suit, the plaintiffs signed a stipulation to discontinue their cause of action against the defendant doctor. However, the medical center did not agree to the stipulation and sought to amend its answer to add a cross claim against the doctor for indemnification and contribution. The doctor, in turn, amended his answer to assert similar cross claims against the medical center.

The Supreme Court granted the defendant medical center’s motion for leave to amend, and the doctor appealed.

Decision of the Court

The Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department,  modified the lower court’s ruling, holding that the lower court should have granted the doctor’s motion to have a stipulation of discontinuance so ordered. The court also severed and continued the defendants’ cross claims against one another. (According to the reviewing court, the lower tribunal properly granted the medical center leave to amend its answer to assert the cross claims against the doctor for indemnification and contribution.)

In deciding whether to allow a party to voluntarily discontinue an action, the general rule was to grant the motion unless doing so would prejudice a party’s substantial right, circumvent a court order, or produce another improper result. Applying these principles here, in the reviewing tribunal’s opinion, it was wrong for the lower court to deny the doctor’s motion to have the stipulation of discontinuance so ordered. Under the circumstances of the case, the lower court should have granted the motion.

Syracuse Medical Malpractice Lawyers Reviewing Cases

To learn more about how the experienced Syracuse medical malpractice attorneys of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP can be of service in your hospital malpractice case, call us now at 315-479-9000. Some is available 24/7 to answer your call. There are strict filing deadlines in medical negligence cases, and it is important to take timely legal action in order to assert your claim within the limitations period. Talking to an attorney early on can also help increase the likelihood of success on the merits of your case and avoid the effects of spoliation of evidence.

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