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New York Appellate Court Reverses Entry of Summary Judgment to Medical Providers in Fatal Hypoxic Brain Injury Medical Malpractice Case

In most Syracuse medical malpractice cases, one or more healthcare provider defendants will file what is known as a “motion for summary judgment.” This procedural device may sound harmless enough, but it is often deadly to the plaintiff’s pursuit of fair compensation for an act of medical negligence.

Summary judgment can effectively end a plaintiff’s case as to certain defendants, certain claims, or in its entirety. When a trial court grants such a motion, the court is basically telling the plaintiff that, even if everything he or she says is true, there is no genuine issue of material fact in his or her case and the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fortunately, there is an appellate process for reviewing a trial court’s granting of summary judgment. Many such appeals are successful, giving the plaintiff’s a second chance to have his or her case proceed to a trial on the merits.

Facts of the Case

In a case arising in the Supreme Court of Erie County, the plaintiff was the administratrix of the estate of a man who died from acute respiratory failure following a hypoxic brain injury that occurred as a result of an emergency tracheostomy that was performed when the man returned to the defendant medical center after he had been dismissed earlier in the day when the defendant anesthesiologist and a nurse (who was employed by the medical center) failed in their attempts to intubate the man in preparation for surgery on his shoulder.

Originally, the plaintiff filed separate legal actions against the medical center and the doctor and nurse, but eventually these actions were consolidated. The trial court granted a motion for summary judgment filed by the nurse and the medical center with regard to both the plaintiff’s medical malpractice and wrongful death action and as to the doctor’s cross claims against them. The anesthesiologist had also requested summary judgment, but his motion was denied.

The Reviewing Court’s Decision

The Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department reversed the lower court’s order in part, thereby denying summary judgment as to all defendants on both the plaintiff’s complaint and the cross claims against them. In so doing, the appellate tribunal agreed with the plaintiff that she had raised a triable issue of fact in response to the defendants’ motions seeking summary judgment. Specifically, the plaintiff had submitted an expert witness’s opinion that it had been a violation of the standard of care to discharge the man from the medical center given his baseline oxygen saturation and personal risk factors. The expert anesthesiologist had further opined that this deviation from the applicable standard of care had been the proximate cause of the man’s death because the hypoxic event could have been avoided with a “more timely” tracheostomy, which could have occurred had he remained in the medical center instead of being sent home.

Schedule a Consultation with a Syracuse Medical Malpractice Law Firm

Unfortunately, negligence by anesthesiologists is both common and potentially deadly. If you have been hurt by such a mistake or lost a loved one because of this type of malpractice, you should talk to a Syracuse malpractice lawyer who handles intubation complication cases on a regular basis. For an appointment to discuss your case with the personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP, call us at 315-479-9000. Our phones are answered 24/7, and there is no charge to come in and talk with us about your case. In fact, you won’t owe us any legal fees at all until your case is won or settled in your favor.

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