Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice
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A jury entered a verdict for the defense in a medical malpractice suit, finding medical negligence but also finding that the negligence did not cause harm. During later conversations with jurors, plaintiffs’ representatives learned that at least some jurors believed the verdict was incorrectly entered because, although there were at least 10 votes (among the 12 jurors) to find that there was medical negligence, there were not 10 votes to find that the medical negligence did not cause harm. Juror affidavits then were prepared and filed with a motion for a new trial. The trial court admitted the affidavits into evidence and exercised its discretion to order a new trial in the interests of justice. The defendants petitioned for the Alaska Supreme Court's review of the new trial order, and the Supreme Court concluded it was error to admit the juror affidavits into evidence and, therefore, there was no evidentiary basis for the trial court to grant a new trial. Accordingly, the Court reversed the order for a new trial and remanded for entry of judgment in favor of the defendants consistent with the jury verdict rendered in court at the close of the trial. View "Trescot v. Foy" on Justia Law

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A husband and wife sued medical care providers after the wife suffered a seizure, allegedly due to a doctor’s decision to abruptly discontinue her medication. The superior court granted summary judgment to the medical care providers, ruling that the couple’s only expert witness, a pharmacist, was unqualified to provide testimony about the matter at issue because he was not a doctor of internal medicine and was not board-certified in the doctor’s field or specialty. The couple appealed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concurred with the trial court that the pharmacist’s testimony was not sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact about the relevant standard of care. The Court therefore affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the health care providers. View "Beistline v. Footit, and Banner Health Inc., D/B/A Fairbanks Memorial Hospital" on Justia Law

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A patient filed suit in 2015 for dental malpractice against his periodontist stemming from care he received from October 2011 through December 2012. The doctor moved for summary judgment based on the two-year statute of limitations. The patient responded that the discovery rule applied, and the statute did not start running until October 2013, less than two years before he brought suit. The doctor asserted that the patient was on inquiry notice in January 2013, and therefore the statute of limitations expired months before he brought suit. The superior court granted the motion for summary judgment. Finding no reversible error in the superior court's grant of summary judgment to the doctor, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "Arnoult v Webster" on Justia Law

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Psychiatrists employed by the Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) diagnosed inmate Adam Israel with paranoid schizophrenia. The inmate disputed his diagnosis, contending that his claimed rare genetic ability to see the electro-magnetic radiation of poltergeists was misunderstood as a delusion. The inmate brought a medical malpractice action against the psychiatrists and DOC seeking rescission of his diagnosis and damages. DOC filed a motion for summary judgment supported by an affidavit from DOC’s chief medical officer. The affidavit confirmed the inmate’s diagnosis and asserted that the inmate received treatment consistent with his diagnosis. After notifying the inmate that he needed expert testimony to oppose the motion for summary judgment, the superior court granted DOC’s summary judgment motion because the inmate failed to provide expert testimony to rebut DOC’s evidence. Israel appealed, arguing that DOC’s medical director was not qualified to testify about the standard of care under AS 09.20.185. The Alaska Supreme Court determined Israel failed to create a genuine issue of material fact about the correctness of his diagnosis. Therefore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment. The Supreme Court also rejected Israel's other arguments raised on appeal. View "Israel v. Alaska, Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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One morning in March 2011, Nixola Doan went to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital with her adult daughter, Tristana, who was coughing and having trouble breathing. Doan stayed with Tristana for much of the day. Around 7:00 p.m. Tristana’s condition worsened, and Doan was “ushered . . . out” of the room while Tristana was intubated. Doan remained in the waiting area and did not see Tristana again until approximately the time of her death at 11:41 p.m., when Doan reentered the room and saw her daughter’s body. As the personal representative of Tristana’s estate, Doan filed suit against a number of medical providers, alleging malpractice and wrongful death. Doan also brought her own claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Several of the defendants moved for summary judgment on the emotional distress claim, arguing it was legally untenable for Doan to understand, while Tristana was undergoing care, her caregivers were acting negligently. On appeal, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded a viable bystander claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress did not depend on the plaintiff’s contemporaneous realization that the injuries she observed were negligently caused. Therefore, the Court reversed the grant of summary judgment. View "Doan v. Banner Health, Inc." on Justia Law

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Alaska’s medical peer review privilege statute protected discovery of data, information, proceedings, and records of medical peer review organizations, but it did not protect a witness’s personal knowledge and observations or materials originating outside the medical peer review process. A hospital invoked the privilege in two separate actions, one involving a wrongful death suit against a physician at the hospital and the other involving both a medical malpractice claim against the same physician and a negligent credentialing claim against the hospital. In each case the superior court compelled the hospital to disclose materials related to complaints submitted about the physician and to the hospital’s decision to grant the physician medical staff membership. The hospital and the doctor sought the Alaska Supreme Court's review of the discovery orders. Because the Supreme Court concluded these discovery orders compelled the hospital to disclose information protected by the peer review privilege, it reversed the discovery orders in part. Furthermore, the Court held that the false information exception to the privilege provided in AS 18.23.030(b) applied to actions for which the submission of false information was an element of the claim and thus did not apply here. View "Mat-Su Valley Medical Center, LLC v. Bolinder" on Justia Law

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The Alaska professional licensing division brought an accusation of professional misconduct against doctor David Odom, M.D., alleging that he acted incompetently when he prescribed phentermine and thyroid hormone for one of his patients. The division sought disciplinary sanctions against the doctor. Following a hearing, an administrative law judge issued a proposed decision concluding that the division had failed to show that the doctor’s conduct fell below the standard of care in his field of practice and that no disciplinary sanctions were warranted. But the Medical Board instead adopted as its decision the proposal for action submitted by the division and revoked the doctor’s medical license. On appeal to the superior court, the case was remanded to the Board for consideration of the doctor’s own late-filed proposal for action. The Board reaffirmed its decision to revoke the doctor’s medical license, and the superior court affirmed that decision. The doctor appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. Because the Medical Board’s decision to revoke the doctor’s medical license was not supported by substantial evidence, the Court reversed the superior court’s affirmance of that decision. View "Odom v. Alaska Div. of Corporations, Bus. & Prof. Licensing" on Justia Law

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Appellant Sean Wright, a former inmate of the Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) who was incarcerated at an out-of-state correctional facility under contract with DOC, filed a medical malpractice and 42 U.S.C. 1983 civil rights action against officials employed by the out-of-state correctional facility and by DOC. The civil rights claims alleged that the corrections officials were deliberately indifferent to Wright's medical needs. The superior court granted summary judgment dismissing the medical malpractice action as barred by the two-year statute of limitations. Subsequently the court granted summary judgment on the deliberate indifference claims against the inmate. In the course of the proceedings, Wright unsuccessfully sought to have the superior court judge removed for alleged bias. Wright appealed these decisions. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Wright v. Anding" on Justia Law

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Dr. Michael Brandner suffered a heart attack in September 2009 and was admitted to Providence Alaska Medical Center for emergency bypass surgery. Dr. Kenton Stephens was the cardiac surgeon who performed the operation; Dr. Robert J. Pease administered anesthesia. Dr. Brandner was also a medical doctor, licensed to practice plastic and reconstructive surgery. Bradner sued the anesthesiologist and medical providers involved in the surgery. The superior court dismissed Bradner’s claims on summary judgment, concluding that Bradner had offered no admissible evidence that the defendants breached the standard of care or caused the patient any injury. On appeal Bradner relied on his expert witness’s testimony that certain surgical procedures were suboptimal and that patients generally tended to have better outcomes when other procedures are followed. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that this testimony was insufficient to raise any issue of material fact regarding whether the defendants had violated the standard of care in a way that caused injury to the patient. View "Brandner v. Pease" on Justia Law

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A cardiologist performed pacemaker surgery on Gregory Hagen and then ordered an x-ray to check the placement of the pacemaker leads and for complications. A second cardiologist reviewed the x-ray and discharged Hagen from the hospital. A radiologist also reviewed the x-ray, noted a potential “nodule” in Hagen's lung, and recommended follow-up x-rays. But these recommendations were never relayed to Hagen, who died from lung cancer approximately two years later. Hagen's wife Shirley filed a medical negligence suit against the two cardiologists, alleging that their failure to relay the radiologist’s recommendations resulted in a lost chance of survival for Gregory. The superior court granted summary judgment to the cardiologists on the grounds that expert testimony from a board-certified cardiologist was required to establish the standard of care and that the Estate had failed to identify such an expert. On appeal of that order, the Estate argued there was a genuine issue of material fact whether the cardiologist who ordered the x-ray later received the radiologist’s report. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Estate did not show how this issue was material to the superior court’s decision regarding the necessity of expert testimony to establish the standard of care. Accordingly, the Court affirmed. View "Hagen v. Strobel" on Justia Law