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Summary disposition of woman's malpractice claim is reversed after fall from wheelchair

Emily Duty sustained a spinal cord injury in a car accident.  While rehabilitating at Mary Free Bed Hospital, she was dropped from a wheelchair after the nurse failed to secure the safety-latch on the backrest.  Ms. Duty did not present an expert witness, arguing that it was ordinary negligence to fail to latch the safety rest and that jurors would not require expert testimony to evaluate the claim.  The trial judge in Kent County disagreed and granted summary disposition of her claim.  The Court of Appeals reversed.

The higher court ruled that a lay juror would not "require the testimony of an expert to understand whether a licensed physical therapist acted reasonably" in failing to use the safety latch.  It held that the use of an unlatched back rest did not involve sophisticated decisions about "distribution of weight" and "type of angle" and rather fell within the guidelines of other simple fall cases where the Supreme Court has ruled that no expert testimony is necessary.

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