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Was this suit for 'malpractice' or 'ordinary negligence' or both?

CASE ON POINT: George v. Saint Peter's Hosp. of City of Albany, 2009-NY-31941 (8/28/2009)-NY

ISSUE: Often there is a fine line between what may be medical malpractice and what may be ordinary negligence. Whether a claim sound in malpractice or ordinary negligence can often mean the difference between whether one side or the other prevails. Some of the most typical scenarios arise when there is a different statute of limitations applicable to cases of medical malpractice than the statute of limitations for ordinary negligence. More often than not the statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases is a lesser period of time than there is for ordinarily negligence. That was the situation in this case in which the widow of a deceased patient sued almost everyone and almost every entity, including a hospital, as well as professional practice groups however, remotely involved in the care and treatment of her deceased husband. The statute of limitations clearly barred suit against some of the defendants. However, the hospital involved fared well in invoking the statute of limitations as to some of the plaintiff's claims. However, the hospital was not successful in invoking the statute as to all.

CASE FACTS: Shannon Goose brought suit, individually and as Executrix of the Estate of her deceased husband, Ronald Goose against Saint Peter's Hospital of the City of Albany as well as Drs. Paul Forrest, Lee Stetzer, Michael Esposito, Eric Korenman, Lee Rather, The Endocrine Group, LLP, Drs. Mark Fruiterman, Gregg Gerity, Albany Gastroenterology Consultants, P.C., and Dr. Richard Clifton. The plaintiff sought damages due to the defendants' alleged negligence, medical malpractice and statutory duty violations relative to medical treatment the plaintiff's husband, Ronald Goose, received between September 3rd and 6th, 2005 and again on July 31st, 2006. On July 23, 2008, the trial court issued a Decision and Order which held that the portion of the plaintiff's complaint sounding in medical malpractice against Dr. Cliff, Albany Gastroenterology Consultants, P.C., Drs. Eric Korenman and Lee Ratner was barred by the statute of limitations. Thereafter, on February 11, 2009, the court issued a second Decision and Order, which in relevant part, denied Drs. Lee Ratner's and Eric Korenman's (the Rather defendants) motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's ordinary negligence claims. The defendants renewed their motion for summary judgment. Saint Peter's Hospital of the City of Albany (St. Peter's) also moved to dismiss the plaintiff's case, as time barred. The court granted the hospital's motion in part and denied it in part. The hospital's motion was granted as to all treatment rendered between September 3-4, 2005. The court otherwise denied the hospital's motion.

COURT'S OPINION: The Supreme Court of New York, Albany County, held that the hospital failed to demonstrate, that it was not liable under an ostensible or apparent agency theory for the care the patient received in July 2006. The court noted that at that time the patient entered the hospital for treatment through the hospital's emergency room. However, the hospital made no showing that the patient sought treatment from his "particular physician." The court noted that the testimony of Drs. Forrest and Stetzer, who both acknowledged their treatment of the patient on July 31, 2006. Neither doctor, however, offered any testimony that the patient had come to see them individually, as opposed to his simply seeking and receiving treatment from the hospital. Neither doctor maintained that they were covering for a different doctor, from whom, the patient sought care. Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, without limitation thereto, the court ordered that the hospital's motion be denied in pertinent part and that the case against it proceed to trial.

LEGAL COMMENTARY: The court, however, did agree with the hospital that the statute of limitations as to proceeding against it on the basis of a medical malpractice cause of action was, in fact, barred by the statute of limitations. The court noted that a cause of action alleging a violation of a hospital Patient's Bill of Rights "actually pleads a medical malpractice action" and is thus covered by the two and a half year statute of limitations applicable to medical malpractice cases. Accordingly, the court declined to consider the plaintiff's claim against the hospital under that theory. Simply put, the court concluded that while medical malpractice claims against the hospital were clearly time-barred, it was unresolved as to whether the hospital's nurses discharge of the patient in 2005 constituted ordinary negligence or medical malpractice. The court stated "[N]ot every negligent act of a nurse [constitutes] medical malpractice, but a negligent act or omission by a nurse that constitutes medical treatment or bears a substantial relationship to the rendition of medical treatment by a licensed physician constitutes malpractice." The court observed that the nurses employed by the hospital owed a duty to the patient. Nurses failed to inform the patient that the results of a CT scan performed on him had not been obtained prior to discharging him. Notwithstanding that fact, the nurses proceeded to discharge the patient. Since the court perceived the failure of the nurses to so inform the patient as malpractice, the court was convinced that the plaintiff was barred from pursing this aspect of the case.
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Title Annotation:Legal Focus on Hospital Law Issues
Author:Tammelleo, A. David
Publication:Hospital Law's Regan Report
Date:Oct 1, 2009
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