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Court reinstates malpractice claim arising out of ectopic pregnancy

Simone Brown made several trips to the Hurley Medical Center complaining of cramps and bleeding.   She was evaluated by physicians Reda  Alami-Hassani and John Hebert, of Women's Health Care Associates. The doctors listed ectopic (or tubal) pregnancy as aa differential diagnosis, but took no steps to treat it.  They also failed to act in response to the radiologist's report that "Ectopic pregnancy is not ruled out.  Please correlate clinically."  As a result, they did not order the administration of methotrexate, which would have prevented injury to the fallopian tubes.  They did tell her to make another return visit on February 11.  Brown did not come back on the 11th (perhaps she'd heard the same story too many times already)  and on the 15th, her tube ruptured; she had to undergo surgery to remove the damaged reproductive organs.

Brown filed suit and deposed four separate specialists who confirmed that she was the victim of sub-standard medical care.  All four physicians testified that if methotrexate had been administered when the ectopic pregnancy should have been diagnosed, Brown would not have suffered catastrophic injury to her reproductive organs.  Despite this testimony, the trial court dismissed her claim because the defendants did not "cause" her injury.

The lower court concluded that there was inadequate evidence proving the lack of methotrexate treatment caused the rupture.  The judge also ruled that since Brown did not return on February 11, she was the sole cause of her injury.  The Court of Appeals unanimously overturned both of these legal holdings.  It pointed out that the relationship between the doctors' malpractice and her damages was "not a tenuous one."  It was reasonably forseeable that Brown would suffer precisely this injury if her condition remained untreated.

The Court also held that it was for the jury to decide whether Brown was guilty of comparative negligence in failing to return to the E.R. on February 11.  If the jurors conclude that both parties were negligent, it is for the jury to decide their relative responsibility for the fallopian rupture, with Brown collecting damages only if the doctors' negligence outweighed her own.

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