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Summary Judgment to Hospital in Medical Malpractice Suit Based on Failure to Timely Diagnose Was Reversible Error According to New York Appellate Court

In some Syracuse medical malpractice lawsuits, the allegation is that a defendant doctor or hospital failed to make a correct diagnosis within a reasonable amount of time under the circumstances.

A delay in treating a medical condition can result in significant harm and even death to a patient.

When a patient is able to prove a claim of medical negligence, he or she may request that the jury award money damages for medical expenses, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and other losses caused by the defendant’s failure to abide by the applicable standard of care.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a woman who went to the defendant hospital’s emergency room in 2008, complaining of numbness, nausea, and vomiting. The plaintiff was admitted to the hospital. Two days later, she was found in a lethargic and unresponsive state in her hospital room. Tests revealed a significant edema of the brain, and emergency surgery was performed.

The plaintiff’s lawsuit alleged that the defendant failed to timely diagnose and treat her condition and that she suffered permanent injuries as a result. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, and the trial court ruled in the defendant’s favor on this issue. The plaintiff appealed, seeking review by the appellate court.

Decision of the Court

The Supreme Court for the State of New York Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department, reversed the lower court’s decision, holding the defendant’s motion for summary judgment should have been denied in light of the conflicting expert opinions offered by the parties. In so holding, the court first acknowledged that, on a motion for summary judgment seeking the dismissal of a medical malpractice claim, the defendant has the burden of establishing that there was no departure from good and accepted medical practice or that, if there was such a departure, this was not the proximate cause of the injuries complained of by the plaintiff in the malpractice case. In order to accomplish this, the defendant must both address and rebut the specific allegations of medical negligence set forth in the plaintiff’s complaint and bill of particulars. If – and only if – the defendant is able to sustain this prima facie burden, the burden then shifts to the plaintiff to raise a triable issue fact as to the elements upon which the defendant met its burden of proof.

Here, the defendant met its burden by submitting an expert’s affirmation that the diagnostic testing and consultations used by the defendant’s personnel were appropriate and within the prevailing standards of medical practice. However, the plaintiff then submitted the opinion of an opposing medical expert, who was of the opinion that the defendant’s delay in performing and reviewing a certain scan constituted a departure from prevailing standards of care and that this delay caused harm to the plaintiff. Because the parties had submitted the opinions of conflicting medical experts, the appellate tribunal held that the trial court had committed reversible error in granting summary judgment to the defendant.

To Schedule an Appointment with a New York Malpractice Lawyer

Doctors and other medical providers make mistakes much more frequently than we would like to believe. Sometimes, as in the case discussed above, a healthcare provider eventually gets the diagnosis right, but it takes so long for this to happen that a patient suffers unnecessary, sometimes permanent, injury. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a medical error, please call the experienced Syracuse medical negligence attorneys at DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP, at 315-479-9000 for a free case review.

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