Harper Hospital argues failing to change a light bulb is "professional" negligence beyond ordinary jurors' knowledge
Dwight Pryor suffered severe burns in the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of Harper Hospital. When he was admitted to the unit, his nurse noted that the halogen light above his bed was not functioning properly. She used the light to start his IV and then left Pryor unattended under the light. About 30 minutes later, Pryor's doctor used the light to perform other procedures and he and the nurse noticed burn blisters developing. In the interim, the nurse had observed that the light had continued to function improperly, but "toggled" the lightswitch and left it illuminating the child.
When Dwight's mother filed a negligence action against Harper to recover compensation for his burns, Harper argued that she must comply with the rules governing medical malpractice cases. The hospital argued that changing the light illuminating Dwight "raises allegations of patient supervision and medical judgment" and therefore was beyond the knowledge-base of jurors. It also wanted to secure the benefit of higher procedural hurdles for the family and a malpractice "cap" on the possible award.After hearing the defense arguments, the trial judge concluded that the knowing use of a malfunctioning light during periods that involved no care for the child, in a location where it could cause serious burn injuries, was ordinary negligence and nothing more. He denied the Defendants motion seeking summary disposition of the claim. At trial, the jury awarded a verdict to the boy and the defense renewed its argument that the case should have been dismissed for failing to meet the extraordinary procedural requirements of the medical malpractice "reform" statutes. The judge again denied the argument and entered judgment against the Hospital. He included nearly $100,000.00 in actual attorneys fees, as required by the Court Rules, since Harper had rejected the recommended case evaluation settlement and the verdict was not more favorable to Harper than the recommended settlement.
On appeal, three judges of the Court of Appeals unanimously agreed that this case did not fall within the Michigan Supreme Court's definition of "medical malpractice," because causing serious burns by using a defective light so close to a child that serious burns result is not an issue invoking professional judgment. The judges did return the case to the trial judge to reconsider the case evaluation sanction award. They concluded that the judge had not adequately followed the Supreme Court's newly adopted rules intended to limit the amount of attorney fees awarded. While the parties' surveys of appropriate hourly fees for malpractice attorneys ranged from $350.00 per hour to $600.00 per hour, the appellate judges concluded that the awarded hourly fee of $525.00 per hour may not have been justified under the higher court's rules. The Defendants also argued that medical malpractice fee rates were not relevant since the Court ultimately concluded this case involved ordinary negligence. They did not acknowledge the fact that the child's attorneys needed to be fully conversant with the medical malpractice rules and procedures in order to contest the Defendants' claim that their negligence was, in fact, professional malpractice.