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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Medical Malpractice: Grant of Summary Judgment for Defense Reversed Due to the Common Knowledge Exception and Res Ipsa Loquitur, Etc.

Here is the opinion from the Middle Section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Deuel v. Surgical Clinic, PLLC, No. M2009-01551-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 16, 2010). The opinion's syllabus reads:

This is a medical malpractice case involving res ipsa loquitur. The defendant physician performed surgery on the plaintiff’s husband. Sponges were used in the patient’s abdomen during the procedure. Nurses in the operating room counted the sponges used in the surgery. The nurses erred in counting the sponges, and the defendant physician closed the surgical incision with a sponge remaining inside. The retained sponge was later discovered and removed in a second surgery. The plaintiff’s husband subsequently died of causes unrelated to the retained sponge. The widow sued the physician and his employer for medical malpractice, asserting that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applied, as well as the common knowledge exception to the requirement of expert medical proof. The physician filed a motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff filed a cross-motion for summary judgment as to liability. The defendant physician filed two medical expert affidavits, both of which stated that the defendant physician had complied with the applicable standard of care by relying on the nurses’ sponge count. Initially, the plaintiff filed an expert affidavit stating that the defendant physician did not comply with the applicable standard of care, but later filed a notice stating that she intended to proceed to trial with no expert proof to support her medical malpractice claim. The trial court determined that neither res ipsa loquitur nor the common knowledge exception applied, and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant physician. The plaintiff now appeals. We reverse the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant physician, and affirm the denial of the plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment. We find that, under both the common knowledge exception and the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, the plaintiff was not required to submit expert proof to rebut the physician’s expert testimony that he was not negligent by relying on the nurses’ sponge count. However, application of neither res ipsa loquitur nor the common knowledge exception results in a conclusive presumption of negligence by the defendant physician. Therefore, a fact issue as to the physician’s negligence remains for trial.

Here's a link to the slip opinion:

As a matter of disclosure, this is my case. It was the subject of my January 1, 2010 post.

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