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CA: should Dr.'s "assistant" have notified him?: Court orders limited new trial for plaintiffs.

CASE FACTS: On March 9, 2001, Nancy Ruppp was admitted to Ojai Hospital after being struck by an automobile. Dr. James Estes, an emergency room physician found that she had a fractured her left leg, as well as numerous other injuries. Dr. Estes placed a knee immobilizer on the patient's left leg. A referral was made to Dr. James Estes of Buenaventura Medical Group (BVMG), for orthopedic treatment. The orthopedist directed the patient to remove the knee immobilizer from time to time and to flex her calf muscles. The patient moved the immobilizer at times, but generally remained sedentary. Five days post accident, the patient experienced symptoms of anxiety, back pain, light-headedness stiffness in her chest, and racing heartbeat. On Monday, March 19, 2001, The patient telephoned Dr. Estes but spoke with Harwood for 10 minutes. Harwood did not specifically inquire regarding the patient's symptoms because she believed the "issue was [Nancy's] anxiety from being hit by a car. Harwood noted that the patient communicated in complete sentences and there was no indication of any problems. Harwood scheduled the patient for the next morning. She did not retrieve the patient's medical record, make a written record of the telephone call, or discuss the call with Dr. Estes. The patient died the following morning on her way to see Dr. Estes. The patient's relatives sued BVMG. The plaintiffs appealed an order of the trial court denying their motion for a partial summary judgment notwithstanding an adverse jury verdict. The defendants appealed the order of the trial court granting the plaintiffs' motion for a partial new trial regarding causation and damages.

COURT'S OPINION: The Court of Appeal of California affirmed the order of the trial court denying the plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The court also affirmed the order of the trial court granting the plaintiffs' motion for a partial new trial regarding causation and damages. To establish causation in a negligence suit, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant's act or omission was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's injury. The court found that a plaintiff meets that burden by proving that a defendant's act or omission was a substantial factor in causing a plaintiff's injury. The jury found that there was evidence of negligence without evidence of causation. Circumstances may exist "where the issues are so interwoven that a partial retrial would be unfair to the other party." However, the court concluded that this was not the situation in this case. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by ordering a retrial limited to issues of causation and damages. Rupp v. Buenaventura Medical Group, Inc., No. B174951 (Cal. App. Dist. 2 12/12/2006)

Meet the Editor & Publisher: A. David Tammelleo, JD, is a nationally recognized authority on health care law. Practicing law for over 40 years, he concentrates in health care law with the Rhode Island firm of A. David Tammelleo & Associates. He has presented seminars on medical, nursing and hospital law throughout the United States. In addition to his writings as Editor of Medical Law's, Nursing Law's & Hospital Law's Regan Reports, his legal articles have been published in the most prestigious health law journals. A prolific writer, his thousands of articles, as well as his achievements as an attorney and lecturer, have won him recognition in Martindale-Hubbell's Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers, Marquis Who's Who in American Law, Who's Who in America and Who's Who in the World.
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Title Annotation:Medical Law Cases of Note
Publication:Medical Law's Regan Report
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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