In a North Carolina medical malpractice case it decided on July 1, 2014, the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which is North Carolina’s intermediate appellate court, held that the standard of care for healthcare professionals, both at common law and as enunciated in section 90-21.12, is designed to accommodate the factual exigencies of any given case, including those that may be characterized as medical emergencies. Therefore, … the sudden emergency doctrine is unnecessary and inapplicable in such cases, and the trial court’s instruction on the sudden emergency doctrine [in this case] was “likely, in light of the entire charge, to mislead the jury.”
What Is The Sudden Emergency Doctrine?
In North Carolina, a person who, through no negligence of his own, is suddenly and unexpectedly confronted with imminent danger to himself and others, whether actual or apparent, is not required to use the same judgment that would be required if there were more time to make a decision. The person’s duty is to use that degree of care which a reasonable and prudent person would use under the same or similar circumstances. If, in a moment of such emergency, a person makes a decision that a reasonable and prudent person would make under the same or similar conditions, he does all that the law requires, even if in hindsight some different decision would have been better or safer.
What Does A Plaintiff Need To Prove In A Medical Malpractice Case?
A North Carolina medical malpractice plaintiff needs to prove that the defendant was negligent in providing medical care by establishing a violation of any one of the following duties: (1) The duty to use their best judgment in the treatment and care of their patient; (2) The duty to use reasonable care and diligence in the application of their knowledge and skill to their patient’s care; and (3) The duty to provide healthcare in accordance with the standards of practice among members of the same healthcare profession with similar training and experience situated in the same or similar communities at the time the healthcare is rendered. N.C.P.I. —Civ. 809.00A (2013).
The Underlying Facts
On Friday, July 8, 2005, a pregnant woman was admitted to a local hospital for labor and delivery of her son. Labor was induced on Friday night but was discontinued until the following morning. Induction resumed at 8:08 a.m. with the administration of Pitocin. No vaginal exam was conducted at that time despite hospital protocols that required a vaginal exam. At around 12:54 p.m., a nurse performed a vaginal exam and discovered an umbilical cord prolapse (a condition where the umbilical cord protrudes from the vagina, which may compromise blood flow to the baby and cause brain damage to the baby due to low oxygen).
Standards of practice require that a baby be delivered as soon and as safely as possible by emergency Cesarean section in the event of a cord prolapse.
The Plaintiffs alleged that the baby sustained severe brain injury as a proximate result of the defendant hospital and defendant physician’s failure to perform a Cesarean section in a timely manner, causing the baby to suffer permanent cognitive impairments and loss of motor control due to the complications with his birth. Several expert witnesses at trial testified that a cord prolapse is uncommon and qualifies as a medical emergency. All of the healthcare providers and experts who testified at trial agreed that the pregnant woman did not have any risk factors for a cord prolapse.
The trial judge provided the jury with the sudden emergency doctrine pattern jury instruction, at the Defendants’ request, after which the North Carolina medical malpractice jury returned a defense verdict. The Plaintiffs appealed.
Lakisha Wiggins and G. Elvin Small, as Guardian ad litem for Roy Lee Brothers, a Minor, Plaintiffs v. East Carolina Health-Chowan, Inc. d/b/a Chowan Hospital and Michael David Gavigan, M.D., Defendants, No. COA13-1428. Click here to read the North Carolina Court of Appeals opinion.
If you or a loved one were injured due to medical malpractice in North Carolina or in another U.S. state, you should promptly seek the legal advice of a local North Carolina medical malpractice attorney or a local medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your medical negligence claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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