Medical Malpractice Case Dismissed Due to Plaintiff’s Failure to Prove the Defendant’s Negligence was the Cause of Death

Virginia medical malpractice cases are often won or lost on the issue of causation. While legal causation is an extremely complex concept, the basic idea behind it is simple:  did the defendant’s actions cause the plaintiff’s injuries? Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued a written opinion in a medical malpractice case requiring the court to determine if the lower court was correct to dismiss the plaintiff’s case for a failure to establish causation. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff’s causation witnesses failed to meet the threshold requirement necessary to give their testimony weight. As a result, the lower court’s decision to dismiss the plaintiff’s case was affirmed.

SurgeonThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving spouse of a man who died as a result of liver cancer. The plaintiff’s husband was initially seen by the Veteran’s Administration (VA) hospital in 2011 for elevated liver function. A CT scan was conducted, and the results were interpreted by a VA doctor. The doctor noted that the patient had cirrhosis of the liver, but no additional findings were noted.

Two years later, the patient was hospitalized, complaining of painful urination, incontinence, slurred speech, and confusion. A second CT scan was ordered, and this time the results showed a suspicious mass that turned out to be cancerous. Since the patient was too weak, he could not receive medical treatment and was placed on palliative care until he passed away a short time later.

The results of the two CT scans were compared, and it was discovered that there was evidence of the mass on the first scan conducted at the VA hospital. The patient’s wife filed a medical malpractice claim against the VA, arguing that the VA was responsible for her husband’s early death because it failed to identify and diagnose the mass that was present at the time of the scan.

The plaintiff presented two expert witnesses to establish causation. The first witness testified that the patient would have possibly been able to obtain a liver transplant had the cancer been diagnosed at the time of the initial scan. However, the expert admitted that the likelihood of receiving a transplant was low because of the long waiting list and the fact that the size of the cancerous mass was so large.

The second witness testified that the chance of a transplant being successful was about 30%, and even if a transplant was not an option, other care could have been provided that may have extended the patient’s life. However, the expert admitted that he was relying on “median patient” data, and nothing in his analysis was specific to the patient.

The lower court granted a defense motion for summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff could not establish that the VA’s negligence caused her husband’s untimely death. The plaintiff appealed. On appeal, the lower court’s decision was affirmed. The court explained that the plaintiff’s experts’ testimony was not sufficient to establish causation because causation needs to be established through an expert with “a reasonable degree of medical certainty.” Here, the court explained, that requirement was not met because the plaintiff was not guaranteed to get a transplant, and even if he did receive a transplant, there was only a 30% chance of it being successful. Additionally, the other care techniques that “may” have extended the patient’s life relied on general median patient data, rather than anything pertaining to the patient’s specific case.

Have You Been a Victim of Negligent Medical Care?

If you or a loved one has recently experienced negligent or substandard medical care, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Virginia medical malpractice lawsuit. Virginia medical malpractice cases can be very complex and often require several expert witnesses to prove various elements of a claim. At the law offices of Charles B. Roberts, P.C., we have extensive experience handling Virginia medical malpractice cases, and we also have a broad network of expert witnesses to assist the courts in understanding the complex medical and scientific issues that invariably arise in these cases. Call 703-491-7070 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with an experienced Virginia medical malpractice attorney.

See More Blog Posts:

Summary Judgment in Virginia Personal Injury Cases, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, July 5, 2017.

NFL Brain Injury Update: CTE More Common than Originally Thoughts, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, August 8, 2017.