Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Medical Malpractice
D.J.S.-W. v. United States
In 2009, D. was delivered at Sharon Hospital by Dr. Gallagher and sustained an injury, allegedly causing her shoulder and arm permanent damage. In 2010-2011, preparing to file D.’s malpractice case, counsel requested records from Sharon and Gallagher, limited temporally to the delivery. Counsel believed that Gallagher was privately employed. Sharon was private; Gallagher was listed on the Sharon website. Counsel did not discover that Gallagher was employed by Primary Health, a “deemed” federal entity eligible for Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), malpractice coverage. D.'s mother had been Gallagher's patient for 10 years and had visited the Primary office. In contracting Gallagher, counsel used the Primary office street address. Gallagher’s responses included the words “Primary Health.” The lawsuit was filed in 2016; Pennsylvania law tolls a minor plaintiff’s action until she turns 18.The government removed the suit to federal court and substituted the government for Gallagher. The district court dismissed the suit against the government for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the FTCA. The case against Sharon returned to state court. After exhausting administrative remedies, counsel refiled the FTCA suit. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit as untimely, rejecting a claim that D. was entitled to equitable tolling of the limitations period because counsel had no reason to know that Gallagher was a deemed federal employee or that further inquiry was required. D. failed to show that she diligently pursued her rights and that extraordinary circumstances prevented her from timely filing. View "D.J.S.-W. v. United States" on Justia Law
Pearson v. Prison Health Service
Pearson, a Pennsylvania prisoner, was hospitalized twice in April 2007: first for surgery to remove his appendix and later for surgery to repair a urethral tear caused by insertion of a catheter during the first surgery. Pearson claims that he was in intense pain for several hours before each hospitalization and that medical staff were dismissive of his complaints. In 2009, he filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that prison officials and an independent medical contractor were deliberately indifferent to those needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. After remands, the district court granted defendants summary judgment. The Third Circuit reversed with respect to one defendant, a nurse, but otherwise affirmed. Rhodes claimed that the nurse refused to examine him and forced him to crawl to a wheelchair, claims that do not require extrinsic proof or expert testimony. Pearson did not present sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that the other defendants were deliberately indifferent. View "Pearson v. Prison Health Service" on Justia Law
Schmigel v. Uchal
In 2003, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court amended its Rules of Civil Procedure to require malpractice plaintiffs to file a certificate of merit (COM) within 60 days of bringing suit, under penalty of dismissal. Five years later, to dismissal of meritorious claims due to technical oversights, the Court amended the Rules again, setting conditions that had to be met before a defendant could seek dismissal. The Third Circuit previously held that the COM requirement is substantive state law that must be applied by a federal court sitting in diversity. Schmigel sued Dr. Uchal, who performed Schigel’s laparoscopic adjustable gastric band surgery in Pennsylvania before moving to Florida. Realizing that no COM had been filed, Uchal waited out the 60-day window, then filed a motion to dismiss. The next day, Schmigel’s counsel filed an “answer,” attaching the missing COM, and arguing that Uchal had not waited 30 days after giving notice of the deficiency to allow for cure before filing his motion to dismiss, The district court dismissed. The Third Circuit reversed, finding that conditions precedent to dismissing an action for failure to comply with the COM requirement, including fair notice to a plaintiff, are substantive law that must be applied in federal court. View "Schmigel v. Uchal" on Justia Law
United States v. Tai
In the late 1990s, people who had taken the prescription diet-drug combination Fen-Phen began suing Wyeth, claiming that the drugs caused valvular heart disease. A 2000 settlement included creation of the Fen-Phen Settlement Trust to compensate class members who had sustained heart damage. Claims required medical evidence. Attorneys who represented certain claimants retained Tai, a board-certified Level 2-qualified cardiologist, to read tests and prepare reports. Tai read 12,000 tests and asserted that he was owed $2 million dollars for his services. Tai later acknowledged that in about 10% of the cases, he dictated reports consistent with the technicians’ reports despite knowing that the measurements were wrong, and that he had his technician and office manager review about 1,000 of the tests because he did not have enough time to do the work. A review of the forms Tai submitted found that, in a substantial number of cases, the measurements were clearly incorrect and were actually inconsistent with a human adult heart. Tai was convicted of mail and wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341 and 1343, was sentenced to 72 months’ imprisonment, and was ordered to pay restitution of $4,579,663 and a fine of $15,000. The Third Circuit rejected arguments that the court erred by implicitly shifting the burden of proof in its “willful blindness” jury instruction and applying upward adjustments under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines for abuse of a position of trust and use of a special skill, but remanded for factual findings concerning whether Tai supervised a criminally culpable subordinate, as required for an aggravated role enhancement. View "United States v. Tai" on Justia Law
Graboff v. Colleran Firm
AAOS is a voluntary professional organization for orthopaedic surgeons, which has adopted professional standards, including member grievance procedures. Most orthopaedic surgeons are members of the AAOS, but it is not a licensing authority. AAOS member Dr. Meller initiated a grievance against another AAOS member, Dr. Graboff, claiming that Graboff wrote an inaccurate report based on incomplete information that was used against him in a civil malpractice case. After determining that Graboff’s testimony violated the AAOS’s Standards of Professionalism, which require members to provide honest and accurate testimony when serving as expert witnesses, the AAOS suspended Graboff from membership for two years and published a description of the proceedings in AAOS Now, its newsletter. Graboff sued, alleging that the AAOS article was defamatory and a false-light invasion of privacy because it selectively recounted the circumstances of the grievance proceedings to imply that he had testified falsely. A jury awarded Graboff $196,000 in damages for “false light” invasion of privacy. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that, as a matter of law, the jury’s finding that the AAOS had not made false statements foreclosed the possibility that it could be liable on the false-light claim. View "Graboff v. Colleran Firm" on Justia Law
Post v. St. Paul Travelers Ins. Co.
Attorneys Post and Reid were retained to defend a medical malpractice action. At trial, plaintiffs introduced evidence suggesting that Post and Reid had engaged in discovery misconduct. Fearing that the jury believed that there had been a “cover-up” involving its lawyers, and concerned with the “substantial potential of uninsured punitive exposure,” the hospital, represented by new counsel, settled the case for $11 million, which represented the full extent of its medical malpractice policy limits. The settlement did not release Post, Reid, the law firm where they began representation of the hospital, or their new firm from liability. The hospital threatened Post with a malpractice suit and sought sanctions. Post eventually brought claims of bad faith and breach of contract against his legal malpractice insurer. The district court awarded $921,862.38 for breach of contract. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the insurer on the bad faith claim and remanded for recalculation of the award, holding that, under the policy, the insurer is responsible for all costs incurred by Post in connection with the hospital’s malpractice claim from October 12, 2005 forward and for all costs incurred by Post to defend the sanctions proceedings from February 8, 2006 forward. View "Post v. St. Paul Travelers Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Lomando v. United States
Decedent was treated at a non-profit clinic, by volunteer physicians. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services deemed those physicians to be Public Health Service employees (Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C. 233(o)), immune from suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 1346, 2671-2680. A suit against the U.S. was the exclusive remedy for alleged malpractice at the clinic. Decedent also treated at a facility where physicians did not enjoy those protections. Her estate sued the U.S., the clinic, the other facility, the doctors at that facility, and their physicians' group. The district court granted summary judgment for the clinic, predicated on immunity under the New Jersey Charitable Immunity Act (NJCIA), and ultimately dismissed. The Third Circuit affirmed, except for remanding with respect to the physicians' group. The trial court properly held that the U.S. was immune from suit under the NJCIA, which provides that a similarly-placed private employer would be entitled to the defense. The court properly held that the treatment provided constituted emergency medicine, so that N.J. Stat. 2A:53A-41 applied and one of plaintiff's experts was not qualified to testify. The court erred in not considering treatment by a physicians' assistant in considering claims against her employer, the physicians' group.View "Lomando v. United States" on Justia Law
Tristani, et al. v. Richman, et al.
This appeal involved a putative class action filed by three Pennsylvania Medicaid beneficiaries subject to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare's (DPW) liens against future settlements or judgments. At issue was whether state agencies responsible for administering the Medicaid program have the authority to assert such liens and, if so, whether Pennsylvania's statutory framework was consistent with the Supreme Court's decision in Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services v. Ahlborn. The court examined the text, structure, history, and purpose of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 301 et seq., and held that liens limited to medical costs were not prohibited by the anti-lien and anti-recovery provisions of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 1396p(a)-(b). Accordingly, the court upheld Pennsylvania's longstanding practice of imposing such liens. The court also held that Pennsylvania's current statutory framework, which afforded Medicaid recipients a right of appeal from the default allocation, was a permissible default apportionment scheme.