Conservative Supreme Court majority reverses lower court, dismisses death claim against Hurley ER because of defect in Notice
Carl Johnson was admitted to the Hurley Medical Center Emergency Room on November 22, 1997, with a diagnosis of atypical chest pain and to "rule out unstable angina and myocardial infarction." He was discharged the following day with instructions to follow up with his family doctor and to maintain a low salt, low cholesterol and low sugar diet. He suffered a massive heart attack that was fatal on November 26, three days later. His family sued Hurley and its Emergency Room phyisicans.
Pre-suit, the family served Hurley with a Notice of Intent to Sue alleging that Johnson's discharge plan should have included beta blockers, aspirin to thin his blood and a recommendation to maintain a sedentary activity level until he was evaluated further. The family described these measures as essential to meet the standard of care applicable to Johnson's emergency care and then alleged that "if the Hurley doctors had met the standard of care Mr. Johnson would not have died on November 26."
The trial judge ruled that this Notice of Intent was defective because the family did not advise the emergency room professionals of "the manner" in which failing to comply with the standard of care caused Mr. Johnson's death. The judge concluded that under "tort reform" the law required these grieving amateurs to explain to the physician emergency experts, in writing, in advance, just exactly how complying with the standard of care by administering beta blockers and aspirin, and limiting Johnson's activity level, would have prevented the heart attack. The judge also ruled that since the statute of limitations had run before the "defective Notice" was identified and could be cured, the family's wrongful death case must be dismissed with prejudice (meaning they could not cure the defect and re-file).
The Court of Appeals heard the family's appeal and upheld the conclusion that the Notice was defective because it didn't explain to the professionals how beta blockers, aspirin and limited activity would have prevented the infarct. It concluded, however, that the family should have the opportunity to amend the defect. The attorneys for the medical defendants appealed, however, and this week the conservative [insurance-selected] majority of the Court held (4-3) that the family could not re-file their claim. It held that the Notice was fatally "defective" in failing to explain to the doctors how their breach of the standard of care caused the decedent's death and ruled that legislation allowing amendment of statutory notices should not apply to the Johnson family's case.