Appeals court rules lawsuit can move forward against Duke Hospital
The North Carolina Court of Appeals has ruled against Duke University Health Systems and two doctors, saying a malpractice claim against them can go forward.
The case involved a woman who went in for surgery to have a section of her small intestine removed. The surgeons were then to reattach the intestine to the rectum, but instead reattached it to her vagina.
Linda and Frank Robinson filed the lawsuit against Duke University Health Systems, Christopher Mantyh and Erich S. Huang, along with several other doctors. However, the case will go forward only against Duke University Health Systems, Mantyh and Huang, based on the Court of Appeals conclusion.
The Robinsons appealed a ruling by Durham County Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, who dismissed the case against the hospital and the doctors when he granted their motion for summary judgment.
The surgery occurred in March 2008 when Robinson was admitted to Duke University Medical Center and elected to undergo a surgical procedure, which was performed by Mantyh, the chief of Gastrointestinal and Colorectal Surgery at the hospital, and was assisted by Huang, a general surgery resident at the hospital.
On the day following the surgery, the patient reported problems, and it was discovered that her small intestine had been connected to her vagina rather than to her rectum. She underwent a second surgery to repair the misconnection, and later she suffered a stress-related psychiatric disorder and was hospitalized briefly for it.
She and her husband filed a complaint alleging negligence against all the defendants.
Duke Hospital and the doctors argued that her lawsuit did not meet the requirements for a medical negligence claim because it did not conform with a legal doctrine that says that, in certain medical malpractice cases, only an expert would be able to determine whether malpractice occurred.
The reason for the doctrine comes from understanding that the majority of medical treatment involves certain inherent risks even when appropriate care is given. Plus, the scientific and technical nature of medical treatment renders an average juror unfit to determine negligence, the ruling states.
The Court of Appeals, however, said that, in this case, a layperson would be able to determine negligence.
"It is common knowledge and experience that intestines are meant to connect with the anus, not the vagina, even following a surgical procedure to correct a bowel problem," the Court ruled.
The Court of Appeals rejected Duke Hospital's argument, which included technical and medical terminology.
The Court also ruled that Hudson should not have granted summary judgment on the issues, because another judge, Robert Hobgood, already had ruled against the defendants when they previously filed a motion to dismiss.
"Our case law is clear that 'one judge may not reconsider the legal conclusions of another judge,'" the Court of Appeals ruled.
The ruling of the Court of Appeals allows the Robinsons to proceed with their lawsuit against Mantyh, Huang and Duke University Medical Center.
The Court affirmed Hudson's order in favor of the defendants regarding punitive damages, saying there was no evidence that the defendant's conduct in this case was willful, wanton, malicious or fraudulent.