In an unreported decision filed on May 13, 2013, the Minnesota Court of Appeals (Minnesota’s intermediate appellate court) affirmed the lower court’s granting summary judgment in favor of the medical malpractice defendants due to a deficiency in the plaintiff’s expert affidavit. The Minnesota Court of Appeals held that the medical malpractice plaintiff’s expert affidavit failed to detail a sufficient chain of causation between the defendants’ care and the patient’s death, and that the plaintiff’s claim for direct corporate medical negligence is not recognized in Minnesota.
Under Minnesota law, a medical malpractice plaintiff must file an affidavit identifying (1) experts who intend to testify; (2) the substance of their testimony; and (3) a summary of the basis for the experts’ opinions. Minn. Stat. § 145.682, subd. 4(a) (2012). Failure to comply with the statutory requirements mandates that the district court, upon motion, dismiss the plaintiff’s claim with prejudice.
The Underlying Facts
In late 2008, the medical malpractice plaintiff’s wife was diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm that required surgery. Preoperative testing revealed that she had heart problems for which she had to have stents implanted into her heart to relieve artery blockage and she was prescribed blood thinners. The abdominal surgery was performed on January 13, 2009 during which the woman experienced “some renal ischemia and postoperatively . . . some transient hypotension.”
On January 18, 2009, the woman was transferred to a nursing home for rehabilitation services. She was discharged from the hospital on prescribed blood pressure and pain medications and she was utilizing supplemental oxygen on an intermittent basis. The woman’s condition deteriorated sometime after 3:00 a.m. on January 19th. At 4:36 a.m., the police department was called by the nursing home staff (the 911 system was inoperable at the time). An ambulance arrived at 4:42 a.m. and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) initiated cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The EMTs estimated that the woman been “down” for at least 20 minutes. She died at 5:05 a.m. on January 19, 2009.
The Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
The woman’s surviving husband filed a wrongful death medical malpractice lawsuit in which he alleged that the medical malpractice defendants were negligent and asserted direct corporate liability on the part of the corporate defendant. The medical malpractice plaintiff filed an affidavit provided by the surgeon to establish the causal connection between the defendants’ negligence and the woman’s death. The affidavit stated that the woman likely suffered from one of three conditions and that, had she received treatment prior to 3:30 a.m., it was more probable than not that she would have survived.
The medical malpractice defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s medical malpractice lawsuit, alleging that the affidavit was insufficient, and the trial court thereafter determined that the surgeon’s affidavit “fails to explain why 3:30 a.m. is the critical time for emergency treatment for each of [the woman’s] probable conditions.”
The Minnesota Court of Appeals Decision
The Minnesota Court of Appeals noted that the surgeon’s affidavit identified three possible conditions that the woman likely suffered from: (1) a hemorrhage; (2) a pulmonary embolus; or (3) a myocardial infarction, and that the surgeon concluded that, “in any of those circumstances, it is more probable than not that had [the woman] received immediate medical attention she would have survived the event.” The surgeon’s opinion was that had the woman received treatment “at or before [3:30 a.m.] . . . her condition could have been treated” by testing and providing intravenous fluids that would have sustained her until surgery.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals held that the surgeon’s conclusion that 3:30 a.m. was the pivotal time for providing the woman life-sustaining care was an unsupported, and therefore speculative, inference because he failed to explain why 3:30 a.m. was the required time for treatment, stating that in order for the surgeon’s affidavit to sufficiently create a causal link, it must be able to identify a “precise explanation of why [the defendants’] failure to follow the applicable standard of care caused the [injury].” The Minnesota Court of Appeals held that the surgeon’s assertions enabled it to establish the “how” of the woman’s death, but not to identify the “why” linking the defendants’ failure to act within his identified, though unexplained, timeframe. The Minnesota Court of Appeals therefore affirmed the lower court’s dismissal.
If you, a family member, or a friend were injured as a result of possible medical malpractice in Minnesota or in another U.S. state, you should promptly seek the advice of a Minnesota medical malpractice attorney or a medical malpractice attorney in your state who may be willing to investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and file a medical malpractice lawsuit on your behalf, if appropriate.
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