Alabama Federal Court Grants Summary Judgment To United States In Medical Malpractice Claim Involving VA

In its Memorandum Opinion issued on November 4, 2021, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama entered summary judgment against the pro se plaintiff in a medical malpractice case involving his treatment at the VA.

The Underlying Facts

Plaintiff, Ray Anthony Fuqua (Fuqua), served in the United States Army between 1988 and 1992, and he most recently worked as a commercial truck driver. He sought treatment for knee pain at the VA Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama.

On September 29, 2014, diagnostic imaging revealed degenerative changes in both knees and evidence of a prior anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) repair in the left knee. On October 27, 2014, Fuqua reported to his medical provider that he “has always been bow-legged” and had developed bilateral knee pain.

Fuqua underwent a left knee replacement surgery on November 5, 2014. He planned to pursue a right knee replacement later if the left knee surgery produced satisfactory results. He was discharged from the hospital in good condition three days after the surgery. During a follow-up appointment on December 15, 2014, Fuqua was “doing fairly well” and could ambulate without aid. Diagnostic imaging from that same date reflected no changes in his left knee since the surgery, but Fuqua did experience further degenerative changes in the right knee.

Fuqua attended another follow-up appointment in February 2015. Sometime after that appointment, he fell, heard a “pop” in his knee, and he began experiencing pain and decreased range of motion. However, he did not return to the VA until August 17, 2015, his next scheduled appointment. On that date, the clinical examination revealed reduced range of motion, warmth, swelling, quad atrophy, hamstring tightness, laxity in flexion, and pain upon palpation. On October 5, 2015, a CT scan detected a patella fracture, and on November 24, 2015, Fuqua underwent a left revision patella replacement.

Fuqua reported good post-surgical progress. However, on March 10, 2016, he reported increased pain and decreased function in his left knee. The attending physician detected “[e]xtreme quad atrophy” and predicted Fuqua could not return to work for at least three months.

On April 14, 2016, the examining physician observed Fuqua had experienced an “event” two to three months earlier that caused decreased range of motion. The physician predicted that Fuqua would never return to gainful employment as a commercial truck driver. On June 16, 2016, the attending physician noted Fuqua continued to experience stiffness in his left knee and remained unable to work, and he stated Fuqua should “consider additional surgery.”

Fuqua’s Amended Complaint filed pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) asserted he suffered injuries because of the medical negligence of one or more employees or agents of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Specifically, Fuqua asserted those employees breached the applicable standard of medical care when they failed to: (1) insert a properly-sized and adequate prosthetic component during his initial surgery on November 5, 2014; (2) properly care for Mr. Fuqua following his November 2014 operation, including failure to timely sign and execute orders for postoperative care and failure to recognize and respond to the fracture of his patella; (3) properly assess, repair, and resurface Mr. Fuqua’s left knee on November 19, 2015; and (4) properly follow up on Mr. Fuqua’s complaints of pain, infection, and loss of function at all times from November 5, 2014 to September 25, 2018.

The Federal District Court held: “In the present case, the United States supported its motion for summary judgment by demonstrating that Fuqua lacks the medical expert testimony necessary to prove his case at trial … Consequently, to defeat the United States’ motion for summary judgment, Fuqua needed to present medical expert testimony to define the standard of care and establish the VA’s breach of that standard. Because Fuqua offered no such expert testimony, he failed to sustain his summary judgment burden of demonstrating disputed material facts, and his malpractice claim cannot survive the United States’ motion for summary judgment … Here, Fuqua does not claim to possess medical expertise, and he has not presented any authoritative medical treatises to establish the applicable standard of care. Moreover, the evidence does not depict a situation in which an average layperson would understand, without the benefit of expert testimony, that Fuqua’s medical providers breached the standard of care, or that any breach of care caused his alleged damages.”

Fuqua v. United States, 5:18-cv-00334-HNJ.

If you or a loved one may have been injured (or worse) as a result of medical malpractice in Alabama or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find an Alabama medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 14th, 2021 at 5:28 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


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