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Court of Appeals reinstates medical malpractice claim against Northern Michigan Hospital

The Estate of Kerin LaJoice sued NMH and several physicians in Emmet County Circuit Court, alleging that Kerin died as a result of poor care.  The Estate claimed that after the 39-year old was admitted through the NMH Emergency Department with symptoms of fever and pneumonia, she was discharged early and in an unstable condition.  Her family argued that when she contacted Dr. Brad Vazales' office, the doctor failed to take her symptoms seriously and did not provide essential care.  She was seen by Vazales in his office the following day because she had been coughing up blood, but was not treated and suffered a cardiac arrest that afternoon.  She was eventually removed from life support and died, leaving behind a husband and two children under the age of four.

The family filed a Notice of Intent with two and one-half pages of factual summary and purporting to document the violation of 15 separate "standards of care."  When the Defendants did not reply to the NOI within the six-month waiting period, the family filed a legal complaint with two accompanying Affidavits of Merit from health care providers.  At the request of the Defendants, the trial judge dismissed the suit, finding that the allegations in the NOI were too vague and non-specific.

Because by this time the statute of limitations had run on the death claim, the court dismissed the case in its entirety.  The family appealed.  The Court of Appeals reinstated the case; it pointed out that while the NOI was not specific enough, it was clearly a good faith effort to provide notice of the basis of the claim and therefore the family was entitled to an opporunity to amend the Notice.  During the brief period when the Michigan Supreme Court was relatively balanced between conservative Republicans on the one hand, and moderate Republicans and Democrats on the other, the Court ruled that a defective NOI may be amended if the original was drafted in good faith. Perhaps the family will get their "day in court" to assess whether there was negligence in the treatment of their wife and mother.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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