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A Better Partnership
August 18, 2016

COA: More evidence is required to determine whether complaint's allegations sound in medical malpractice or ordinary negligence

In Trowell v. Providence Hospital and Medical Centers, Inc., No. 327525, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed summary disposition to allow further factual development to ascertain whether plaintiff’s claims sounded in medical malpractice or ordinary negligence.
 
Plaintiff Audrey Trowell was admitted to Providence Hospital and Medical Centers, Inc. on February 11, 2011, after she suffered a stroke caused by an aneurysm.  Once placed in the intensive care unit, plaintiff alleged that she was advised that two nurses were needed to assist her whenever she went to the bathroom.  Subsequently, an unassisted nurse dropped plaintiff twice while attempting to transport her to the bathroom, causing her to hit her head on a wheelchair.  Plaintiff alleged that as a result of the falls, she suffered bleeding on the brain and a torn rotator cuff that required multiple surgeries and ongoing treatment.
 
Plaintiff filed a complaint against the hospital asserting multiple allegations of negligence.  The hospital filed an answer to the complaint and affirmative defenses, indicating that plaintiff’s suit was time-barred by the two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice actions, and that she failed to serve a notice of intent and file an affidavit of merit, which are both required in medical malpractice actions.  The hospital then filed a motion for summary disposition arguing that plaintiff’s complaint sounded in medical malpractice and not ordinary negligence, considering that a professional relationship had existed between the plaintiff and the hospital and the alleged acts of negligence raised questions of medical judgment that were not within the common knowledge and experience of laypersons.  Plaintiff contended that the claim was not filed as a medical malpractice action and that medical expertise was not necessary for a jury to decide whether an aide dropping someone was negligence. Plaintiff further contended that her suit and alleged breach of duty did not entail the aide’s administration of any medical care or treatment or the exercise of medical judgment.
 
On April 8, 2015, the trial court granted the hospital’s motion for summary disposition and plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration and to amend the complaint. The court denied plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration, but directed her to refile her motion to amend with an attached proposed amended complaint.  Plaintiff refiled her amended complaint with the single count retitled “Negligence,” repeating most of the allegations found in the original complaint and simply asserting negligence on the part of the hospital for departing from the standard of care by failing to ensure her safety while in the hospital.  On May 26, 2015, the trial court entered an order denying plaintiff’s renewed motion to amend, ruling that the motion was essentially a motion for reconsideration, which had already been denied.  Plaintiff appealed.
 
The Michigan Court of Appeals concluded that further factual development was required to ascertain whether claims were sounded in medical malpractice or negligence.  The court reasoned that factors not requiring or implicating medical judgment may be fully sufficient in and of themselves to properly assess the reasonableness of conduct within the realm of common knowledge and experience.  Moreover, the court opined that absent documentary evidence the complaint alone was inadequate to serve as a basis to summarily dismiss plaintiff’s action, and plaintiff was not obligated to submit documentary evidence where the hospital chose not to do so in support of its motion.  Therefore, the court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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