In Massachusetts, any medical malpractice action must be approved by a tribunal before it can be filed in civil court. The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently reversed a tribunal decision in 17-P-780, which prevented an estate from pursuing a Massachusetts medical malpractice lawsuit against the deceased’s primary care physician. For a 17-month period, the deceased sought care from his doctor several times for various symptoms. Some he experienced, like shortness of breath and chest tightness, are linked to heart disease. His physician offered diagnosis and treatment for other maladies but did not address or treat him for a heart-related condition. He also failed to refer him to a cardiologist.
The deceased patient was taken to an emergency room at the end of this period, experiencing a heart attack due to 100 percent blockage of his left anterior artery. He died soon afterward at the age of 46. His mother and personal representative filed a lawsuit against his treating physician for the patient’s death because of his failure to identify and address the heart disease in violation of the applicable standard of care.
The matter went before the medical tribunal, per G.L. c. 231, sec. 60B. The tribunal determined the proof was insufficient to raise a legitimate question of liability appropriate for judicial inquiry, even if it was substantiated. The estate was required to show the hospital was a provider of health care as defined by the General Laws, the hospital did not follow good medical practice, and the extent of damages suffered as a result of these actions. To see whether or not the physician at issue followed the standard of care, the tribunal looks at whether or not the care was what an average qualified physician in his or her area of specialty would provide. An injured party usually offers the opinion of a qualified medical physician to establish the standard of care.