The State of Michigan Court of Appeals (“Michigan Appellate Court”) ruled in its July 20, 2017 unreported decision that the plaintiff’s claim for damages for the injuries he sustained when he fell while walking to the bathroom in his hospital room was a claim for medical negligence and not a claim of ordinary negligence, and therefore the plaintiff was required to serve a notice of intent, pursuant to MCL 600.2912b, and to file an affidavit of merit, pursuant to MCL 600.2912d, as required in medical malpractice suits.
The Alleged Facts
The plaintiff was admitted as a patient at the defendant hospital on March 28, 2013. On the evening of March 28th, while in his hospital room, the plaintiff alleged that he pushed the call button “a number of times,” seeking ambulatory assistance to use the bathroom. After about 30 minutes without a response, he attempted to walk to the bathroom by himself and fell, suffering injuries to his head, back, and right arm and shoulder. A rapid response team at the hospital documented the incident and the injuries.
Several hours later, the plaintiff pushed the call button for help to use the bathroom, waiting approximately 45 minutes without a response before he again attempted to walk to the bathroom. The plaintiff then fell for the second time, suffering injuries comparable to those sustained in the first fall, with an intensification of the pain being experienced in his right shoulder.
The plaintiff filed a negligence action against the hospital without providing the preliminary service of a notice of intent and the filing of an affidavit of merit. The plaintiff’s complaint alleged one count of negligence and one count of loss of consortium. The plaintiff’s negligence claim alleged that the hospital, through its employees, staff, and agents, breached the duty of care owed to the plaintiff by: (1) negligently failing to regularly monitor and supervise the plaintiff’s needs: (2) negligently failing to regularly monitor the patient call system; (3) negligently failing to respond when the plaintiff used the call system; (4) negligently and recklessly permitting the plaintiff to fall twice on the same day; and (5) negligently violating the plaintiff’s rights as a hospital patient.
The defendant hospital filed a motion for summary disposition, which the trial court granted, concluding that there existed a professional relationship between the hospital and the plaintiff at the time of his treatment and that the plaintiff’s action involved questions of medical judgment beyond the realm of common knowledge and experience. The plaintiff appealed.
The Michigan Appellate Court noted that there was deposition testimony by a registered nurse who was on duty when the plaintiff fell for the second time, and she indicated that situations can arise in which multiple patients are using their respective call buttons at the same time. In those circumstances, according to the nurse, the staff is forced to prioritize which patient to attend to first, implicating nursing judgment, although she could not recall any patient ever having to wait 30 or more minutes for a response to an activated call button.
The Michigan Appellate Court stated that the issue to be resolved is whether the plaintiff’s claims raise questions of medical judgment requiring expert testimony or, on the other hand, whether the claims concern facts within the realm of a jury’s common knowledge and experience. More specifically, the issue is whether the reasonableness of the response, or lack thereof, by the hospital’s nursing or medical staff to the activated call button implicated matters of medical judgment.
The Michigan Appellate Court stated that “[a] bit of the difficulty in analyzing this case is that there is no evidence specifically indicating why hospital personnel did not respond to [the plaintiff’s] room after he repeatedly pressed the call button preceding the two falls, assuming that he actually did so.” Nonetheless, the Michigan Appellate Court stated that when determining whether the reasonableness of an action can be evaluated absent contemplation of medical judgment, a court must explore the nature of the action and the reason or reasons explaining why the action occurred in the first place. To the extent that hospital personnel failed to respond because of staffing level decisions, patient monitoring criteria, risk assessments, or patient prioritization determinations, the caselaw makes clear that these matters typically concern and involve questions of medical judgment.
The Michigan Appellate Court stated that the defendant hospital submitted documentary evidence in support of its motion for summary disposition and the plaintiffs submitted documentary evidence in response, but the evidence did not suggest or indicate that the failure to respond to the call button was unassociated with the exercise of professional medical judgment. The Michigan Appellate Court held that assuming that the plaintiff actually utilized the call button as claimed, the plaintiff has not established a triable factual issue regarding whether the failure to respond to the call button was anything more than negligence connected to staffing levels, patient monitoring, risk assessment, or priority determinations that involved medical judgment. Therefore, the Michigan Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling.
Rogers v. St. Joseph Mercy Health Systems, No. 332117.
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