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New York Appellate Division Affirms Denial of Summary Judgment in Medical Malpractice Wrongful Death Suit

In a Syracuse medical malpractice case, the plaintiff is usually the person who was the victim of a doctor or hospital’s negligence. However, sometimes an act of medical negligence is so severe that it results in a patient’s death.

In such a situation, there is still the possibility of a lawsuit against the responsible medical provider. However, the procedure is more complex than if the patient himself or herself was available to pursue monetary compensation.

Typically, it is the personal representative of the estate of the deceased medical negligence victim who brings suit in such a situation. This may or may not be a family member of the deceased individual (although any proceeds will likely go to the victim’s family members).

Facts of the Case

In a recent medical malpractice case, the patient was a man who allegedly suffered from trigeminal neuralgia (a medical condition in which stimulation of the patient’s face can trigger severe pain). In 2012, the defendant neurosurgeon reportedly performed microvascular decompression surgery in an attempt to alleviate the patient’s nerve pain. The patient was discharged two days after his surgery. Thereafter, he complained of a headache, prompting a family member to call the defendant’s office about five days after the surgery. The patient was prescribed a steroid for his headache. He died a few days later (eight days after the surgery) from an apparent intracerebellar hemorrhage due to hypertensive cardiovascular disease.

The personal representative of the patient’s estate filed a medical malpractice lawsuit in the Supreme Court of Nassau County, New York, seeking compensation from the neurosurgeon and the surgery group for whom he worked. The complaint also alleged that the defendant had treated the patient without his informed consent. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant appealed.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

The Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department, affirmed the lower court’s order denying the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The court began by explaining that, in order for a physician to be held liable for an act of malpractice, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove that there was a deviation from the accepted community standards of medical practice. The plaintiff must also be able to show that the defendant’s departure from the applicable standard of care was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. In order to be awarded summary judgment in a medical negligence case, a defendant must be able to make a prima facie showing that either there was no deviation from the standard of care or that such a deviation was not the proximate cause of the injuries about which the plaintiff complains. If a defendant makes such a prima facie showing, to survive a motion for summary judgment the plaintiff must submit expert testimony sufficient to create a triable issue of fact.

Here, the defendants made a prima facie showing through evidence that included postoperative CT scans, an autopsy report, and an expert’s opinion that there was no deviation from the standard of care. In response, however, the plaintiff offered the opinion of a board-certified neurologist who opined that defendant had deviated from good and accepted medical practice by proceeding with surgery, considering the variety of other available treatment options. Because there was a genuine issue of material fact to be resolved at trial, summary judgment was not appropriate in the appellate court’s opinion.

Talk to a Lawyer About a Negligent Doctor or Hospital

If you have lost a loved one because of a doctor or surgeon’s mistake in judgment, you should be compensated. To find out more about the process of pursuing a Syracuse surgical malpractice claim, call the experienced wrongful death attorneys at DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP, at 315-479-9000 today.

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