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New York Appellate Tribunal Dismisses Mother’s Medical Malpractice Case Asserting Anesthesiology Error During Labor

Syracuse medical malpractice cases often come down to a “battle of the experts.” The case begins with the plaintiff’s medical professional witness testifying that the defendant failed to follow the standard of care and, as a result, harmed the patient.

The defendant then puts his or her own expert witness on the stand, and a very different opinion is given. The jury, as the finder of fact, has to resolve the conflicting testimony.

Sometimes, however, the case doesn’t make it that far. Via a process called “summary judgment,” the trial court may decide that the expert opinion offered by the plaintiff is not sufficient to get the case in front of a jury.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case appealed from the Supreme Court of Suffolk County, the plaintiff was a woman who filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendants, an anesthesiologist and an anesthesia practice group, seeking to assert a cause of action for medical negligence and to recover money damages. As grounds for relief, the plaintiff (who was joined in the suit by her husband, who sought to assert a derivative claim) averred that the defendants had been negligent in the placement of a lumbar epidural catheter and during the administration of epidural anesthesia during childbirth. The plaintiff further asserted that she had suffered physical injuries, namely weakness and numbness in her left lower extremity (including “foot drop”) as a result.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The plaintiffs appealed, seeking further review of the trial court’s decision to dismiss their lawsuit against the defendants prior to trial.

The Court’s Decision on Appeal

The Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department affirmed the lower court’s decision to dismiss the plaintiffs’ case on summary judgment. The court began by acknowledging that, in order to successfully prove a case of medical malpractice, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant medical professional deviated from the accepted standard of care and that this departure was a proximate cause of the injuries for which the plaintiff sought monetary compensation. Here, the defendants’ summary judgment motion was based upon the affidavit of an expert witness who opined that there was neither a departure from the standard of care nor (even if there was) proximate causation.

The court agreed with the defendants that, based upon the expert witness’s affidavit, they had made a prima facie showing of their entitlement to summary judgment; in so holding, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ contention that the witness’s affirmation had been vague and conclusory. Although the plaintiffs relied upon their own expert’s opinion in contravention of the opinion offered by the defendants’ expert, the reviewing court agreed with the defendants that the plaintiff’s expert had offered a conclusory and speculative opinion and had relied upon facts that were not supported by the record in the case. Thus, the reviewing court agreed with the lower tribunal that the defendants were entitled to summary judgment.

Interested in a Complimentary Case Review of Your Malpractice Claim?

At DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP, we have many years of experience investigating, evaluating, and litigating Syracuse medical malpractice cases. If you would like to talk to us about a potential medical negligence case, call us at 315-479-9000 or use the contact form on this website. Please do not delay in talking to a lawyer about your situation, as untimely claims will be dismissed under the statute of limitations.

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