Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Allows Woman Suffering a Stroke to Pursue Medical Malpractice Action

To pursue a medical malpractice action in Massachusetts, an injured patient must show that there was a failure to use the generally accepted practices and procedures of a specific disease or disorder, commonly used by medical professionals in the same area of medicine, during his or her treatment. This is usually described as a breach in the standard of care. When filing a medical malpractice action, the injured patient must submit her or his case to the Medical Malpractice Tribunal (MMT) for review, so it can determine whether or not there is enough substantiated evidence to bring a case before a jury or judge. This can include testimony from a qualified expert, who attests to whether or not the standard of care was breached.

In Washington vs. Cranmer, the injured patient went to an emergency room for various symptoms. The 37-year-old woman complained of body weakness, left arm weakness, dizziness, high blood sugars, and blurry vision. The injured patient already had a history of diabetes, chronic hypertension, and high cholesterol, and she presented upon arrival with slow responses, high blood pressure, and difficulty walking. She was examined, treated, and released by an E.R. doctor, who determined that she was alert, able to walk and move, and oriented. The E.R. doctor prescribed blood pressure medicine after the injured patient revealed she had not taken her medicine that morning. A CT scan was conducted, which did not reveal any abnormalities. An MRI was additionally ordered so that the E.R. doctor could better determine her condition. The injured patient was claustrophobic and ultimately did not go through with the MRI, and she had elevated blood pressure. Despite the lack of test results to make a determination, the injured patient was discharged with instructions to return if she suffered any additional problems.

After her release, the injured patient suffered a stroke overnight, and she now has permanent neurological damage. The woman filed her medical malpractice action in the Massachusetts Superior Court and submitted it to the MMT for review, as required, but did not post the $6,000. The MMT concluded that the proof was insufficient to bring a legitimate question of liability in front of a fact-finder and dismissed for the lack of the statutorily mandated bond.

The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) determined that the proof was adequate to allow a jury to decide whether or not there was a breach in the physician’s standard of care, and it reversed the MMT’s dismissal. The SJC stated that the tribunal’s job was to make a factual determination of the sufficiency of proof, not to examine the weight or credibility of the evidence. The evidence presented must be viewed in the light most favorable to the injured patient. The SJC felt the expert opinion letter by a board-certified neurologist provided enough evidence that a jury or judge could determine that the the E.R. doctor did not meet the standard of care.

The Massachusetts medical malpractice attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the knowledge and experience you need to thoroughly present your case to the Massachusetts Medical Tribunal. If you or a family member have suffered an injury from sub-par medical care, contact our office today for a free, confidential consultation.

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