Family becomes embroiled in dispute between automobile and medical malpractice insurers
Richard Anthony Jackson suffered disc injuries in a motor vehicle collision. His doctors admitted him for back surgery at the DMC, however, he died during the surgery. When his family sued the car owner and driver for negligence, and claimed that they were a cause of Jackson's death, the insurer for the owner and driver filed a notice of third-party fault alleging that the sole cause of death was the negligence of unknown treaters at DMC. When the parties to the suit attempted to depose the physicians involved in Jackson's care, DMC objected and refused to allow them to testify; it claimed that the at-faults owner and driver were attempting to execut e an "end around" the medical malpractice notice requirements.
Ultimately, the trial court rejected the "notice of third-party fault" and also rejected the auto insurer's effort to take the doctors' depositions. The insurer for the at-faults appealed both decisions. The Court of Appeals ruled that the lower court was right in rejecting the "notice of third-party fault" but wrong in allowing the DMC attorneys to bar discovery depositions of the doctors.
The Court held that the victim's family must connect the death of the decedent to the motor vehicle collision, and that if they do, the at-fault's insurer cannot pass the blame for this separate incident on to the [arguably] negligent subsequent medical providers. It reversed the lower court's decision blocking the doctors' depositions, however. The Judges held that to block these depositions interferes with Michigan's strong public policy allowing broad freedom of discovery.
The Court implied that its ruling was not based on the conflict between the medical malpractice rules--which require precise proof of a breach of the standard of care in order to blame a heatlh care provider--and the civil procedure rules governing third party fault. It implied that the threshold for proving malpractice might be lower when an alleged wrongdoer defends by claiming malpractice. Hopefully, when that question is directly addressed, a court with authority will apply the same standards of proof to all parties.