Man sues for failure to anti-coagulate allegedly causing stroke; various issues go to Court of Appeals
Jerome Crawford sued William Beaumont Hospital and the Cardiology Associates of Birmingham after he suffered brain injury from a stroke. Crawford had gone to the ER with chest tightness and shortness of breath. It was determined that he had atrial fibrillation and needed cardioversion. The procedure was performed but just after release he suffered a severe stroke. He filed a legal action alleging that the cardiologists and hospital were negligent in failing to prescribe anti-coagulants.
The Defendants filed several motions for summary disposition, basically arguing that each particular defendant was not involved, personally, in the failure to prescribe Coumadin and that Crawford could not prove that the failure to prescribe Coumadin was a cause of his stroke. The Court granted Beaumont's motion, but denied the cardiologist's motion. It also denied Crawford's request for leave to file an amended complaint to include allegations that the Heparin levels administered to Crawford while in the hospital were too low.On appeal, the Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's decision to deny Crawford leave to amend. It ruled that he had not shown a sound reason for failing to raise the Heparin issue earlier. The Court also held that since there was a material factual dispute over whether Crawford looked to the Hospital for treatment, the cardiology practice was an apparent or "ostensible" agent of the Hospital. Therefore, the Hospital could be held accountable for the cardiologists' negligence if the jury determined that Crawford's expectation of cardiology treatment through the hospital was reasonable.
In its next ruling, the Court of Appeals panel upheld the lower court's decision that the consulted Cardiologist could be held responsible for the negligence of his physician assistant. The Court noted that by law a physician remains liable for the negligence of an assistant employed in his or her practice, and Crawford had adequately apprised the cardiologist of this potential liability in his Notice of Intent.
Last, the Court addressed the argument that Crawford's causation proofs were not adequate and that one of his three experts' testimony should be excluded. The Court reviewed the testimony of his expert physicians and found ample evidence supporting the claim that the failure to provide therapeutic Coumadin allowed the clot that caused Crawford's cardioversion to ultimately cause a stroke. The Court also held that one expert's failure to point to a particular medical study to provide a scientific basis for his opinions, which he claimed were based on more than 25 years of cardiology experience, did not render him ineligible to testify.