Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Medical Malpractice
Doan v. Banner Health, Inc., et al.
A young woman died of heart failure while hospitalized. Her mother, acting on her own behalf and as personal representative of the woman’s estate, sued the hospital, several doctors, and the doctors’ employers for medical malpractice. In successive orders the superior court decided that all the witnesses proposed by the mother as medical experts failed to meet the statutory requirements for expert testimony on the relevant standards of care. The court also denied the mother’s motion to replace the rejected expert witnesses; granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the mother’s claim for damages for a lost chance of survival, deciding that such a claim was contrary to Alaska’s medical malpractice statutes; and found that the amended complaint sought to impermissibly allege a new claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress against the doctors. The mother appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that exclusion of the mother’s proposed expert witnesses rested on a misinterpretation of the statutes that governed standard-of-care testimony; this portion of the trial court's judgment was reversed for reconsideration within the proper statutory framework. The Court concluded the superior court did not abuse its discretion by denying the mother’s tardy request to replace one of her expert witnesses, who had lost the necessary board certification years earlier. The Court also affirmed the grant of summary judgment on the loss of chance claim, concluding, as the superior court did, that whether to recognize such a claim was a policy choice for the legislature to make. Finally, the Supreme Court concluded that under Alaska’s generous notice pleading rules, the mother adequately alleged a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress against the doctors, and it was not necessary for her to amend her complaint in order to pursue such a claim. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Doan v. Banner Health, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
Knolmayer, et al. v. McCollum
This case presented the questions of whether and how Alaska Statute 09.55.548(b) applied when the claimant’s losses were compensated by an employer’s self-funded health benefit plan governed by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that an ERISA plan did not fall within the statute’s “federal program” exception. Therefore AS 09.55.548(b) required a claimant’s damages award to be reduced by the amount of compensation received from an ERISA plan. But the Supreme Court also concluded that the distinction the statute draws between different types of medical malpractice claimants was not fairly and substantially related to the statute’s purpose of ensuring claimants do not receive a double recovery — an award of damages predicated on losses that were already compensated by a collateral source. "Because insurance contracts commonly require the insured to repay the insurer using the proceeds of any tort recovery, claimants with health insurance are scarcely more likely to receive a double recovery than other malpractice claimants. The statute therefore violates the equal protection guarantee of the Alaska Constitution." View "Knolmayer, et al. v. McCollum" on Justia Law
Park v. Spayd
In 2019 a woman sued her former husband’s medical provider, alleging that from 2003 to 2010 the provider negligently prescribed the husband opioid medications, leading to his addiction, damage to the couple’s business and marital estate, the couple’s divorce in 2011, and ultimately the husband's death in 2017. The superior court ruled the claims were barred by the statute of limitations and rejected the woman’s argument that the provider should have been estopped from relying on a limitations defense. Because the undisputed evidence shows that by 2010 the woman had knowledge of her alleged injuries, the provider’s alleged role in causing those injuries, and the provider’s alleged negligence, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that the claims accrued at that time and were no longer timely when filed in 2019. And because the record did not show that the woman’s failure to timely file her claims stemmed from reasonable reliance on fraudulent conduct by the provider, the Supreme Court concluded that equitable estoppel did not apply. View "Park v. Spayd" on Justia Law
Titus v. Alaska, Department of Corrections, et al.
The personal representative of an estate brought a medical malpractice claim against a company that provided the decedent emergency room medical care shortly before his death. The superior court granted summary judgment dismissing the estate’s claim against the company, reasoning that the estate’s board-certified expert was not qualified to testify about the relevant standard of care. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed, finding the physician, licensed under AS 09.20.185(a)(1), met the requirement of AS 09.20.185(a)(3) because a variety of fields of medicine, directly related to the matter at issue. View "Titus v. Alaska, Department of Corrections, et al." on Justia Law
Trescot v. Foy
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
Beistline v. Footit, and Banner Health Inc., D/B/A Fairbanks Memorial Hospital
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
Arnoult v Webster
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
Israel v. Alaska, Department of Corrections
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
Doan v. Banner Health, Inc.
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
Mat-Su Valley Medical Center, LLC v. Bolinder
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