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WA: nurse-expert's testimony inadmissible: lack of expert testimony re cause of death fatal. (Legal Case Briefs for Nurses).

CASE FACTS: Robert Stweart's 60-old wife, Janice was admitted to Walla Walla General Hospital on the morning of August 30, 1999. She was diagnosed with cholecystitis, multiple gall stones. Gall stones blocked the common bile duct. Dr. Scott Newbold, a surgeon, began antibiotics and arranged for endoscopic removal of the stones the next day. Dr. Newbold planned to follow that procedure with a laparascopic cholecystectomy. The patient died the next morning. The physician who performed the autopsy on the patient concluded that the cause of death was acute calculous cholecystitis, and that another condition contributory to death was coronary artery atherosclerosis. The patient's husband, individually and as a personal representative of the estate, brought suit against Dr. Newbold, Nurse Joscelyn-Torrey, the RN who cared for the patient, and Walla Walla General Hospital. All parties agreed to an order dismissing Dr. Newbold as a defendant. The remaining defendants filed a motion for summary judgment for dismissal. The Superior Court of Walla Walla County summarily dismissed the plaintiffs claims against the nurse and the hospital. The plaintiff appealed.

COURT'S OPINION: The court of appeals of Washington affirmed the judgment of the lower court. The court held, inter alia, that the evidence established that the defendants violated the nursing standard of care and that this was the proximate cause of the patient's death. The court observed that the medical examiner stated in an affidavit: "In my opinion, the cause of Mrs. Stewart's death was sepsis ... Her common duct was blocked by a large gall stone. She also had numerous gall stones in her gall bladder. The blockage of her common bile duct resulted in inflammation and infection developing in the bile ducts. The infection in the bile ducts, leads [sic] to sepsis." The court noted that Dr. David A. Simonowitz testified that Dr. Newbold or a consulting gastroenterologist should have drained the common bile duct blockage when the patient arrived at the hospital. Sandra Schutz, a registered nurse and expert on the standard of nursing care, testified in a deposition that Nurse Joscelyn-Torrey failed to meet the applicable standard in treating the patient. Nurse Shutz produced a chart identifying eleven instances in which Nurse Joscelyn-Torrey failed to meet the applicable standard of nursing care. The record was replete with evidence that the nurse-expert readily admitted that she was not qualified to testify as to a medical opinion or to testify with any diagnosis nor was she able to establish any preferred treatment plans or to the cause of death. Stewart v. Newbold, 2002 WL 1389415 P.2d -WA

Meet the Editor & Publisher: A. David Tammelleo, JD, is a nationally recognized authority on health care law. Practicing law for nearly 40 years, he concentrates in health care law with the Rhode Island law 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 Reagan 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 and Marquis Who's Who in American Law.
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Article Details
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Author:Tammelleo, A. David
Publication:Nursing Law's Regan Report
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U9WA
Date:Aug 1, 2002
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