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Superior Court Remands Defense Verdict because Admission of Breach required Finding of Negligence

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The Superior Court recently remanded a medical malpractice case back to the Clarion County Court of Common Pleas after ruling that the jury erroneously found a clerk’s admitted filing error was not negligent.  

In writing on behalf of the unanimous three-judge panel, Judge Anne E. Lazurus explained that, because the file clerk’s employers admitted that she misfiled an ultrasound report and that mistake constituted a breach of the standard of care, the defense verdict bore no rational relationship to the evidence.

The events underlying the original action began when the minor-plaintiff’s mother presented for a diagnostic ultrasound during her third trimester of pregnancy.  The ultrasound showed a large cyst on the fetus’ right kidney.  Before the report made its way to the defendant obstetricians’ office, the mother went into labor and delivered a baby boy.  Once the ultrasound report arrived at the office, a file clerk placed it in the wrong pile of papers.

About ten days later, the parents brought their baby to the hospital because the baby was lethargic and vomiting.  An abdominal ultrasound revealed the kidney cyst, and he was transferred to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh for an emergency surgery to correct an obstructed urethra.  The parents initiated a medical malpractice suit against the radiologist, the hospital, and the obstetricians and their practice.  Amongst their several charges of negligence and vicarious liability, the plaintiffs contended that the obstetricians failed to maintain proper procedures for obtaining radiology reports.  The jury found in favor of the obstetricians.  The plaintiffs appealed.

In the opinion, Judge Lazurus agreed with the plaintiffs that the obstetricians’ admission that their staff member was negligent required that the defense decision be set aside.  During their depositions and cross-examination, the physicians testified that the misplaced ultrasound report delayed their timely review of the results and constituted a breach in the standard of care.  Even without an expert to opine as to the communication policies in place at the obstetricians’ practice, Judge Lazurus held that the facts mandated a finding of negligence.  In doing so, she cited two Superior Court cases that found that experts are not needed to prove negligence when lack of skill or care is obvious to laypeople.  As a result, the Court ordered that only the obstetrician defendants and their practice should be brought before a jury again to determine causation, liability and damages.

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