Thursday, January 31, 2013

Alberts v. Schultz case brief

Alberts v. Schultz case summary
975 P.2d 1279 (N.M. 1999)
Tort Law

-Plaintiff husband and plaintiff wife sued defendant doctors for the amputation of plaintiff husband's right leg.
-Plaintiffs' expert testified that, because the medical records were incomplete, he could not state to a reasonable degree of medical probability that immediate use of certain tests or bypass surgery would have increased the chance of saving plaintiff husband's leg.
-The trial court granted defendants' partial summary judgment due to plaintiffs failure to establish that defendants' conduct proximately caused plaintiff husband's injury, but denied defendants summary judgment on the issue of pain and suffering.
-The trial court found that there was an issue whether defendants' allegedly negligent conduct reduced the chance of avoiding plaintiff husband's injury, and it certified that issue for interlocutory appeal.

The matter was before the court on certification from the New Mexico Court of Appeals for a determination of whether New Mexico recognized a cause of action for the increased risk of harm to a patient as a result of a physician's negligence, and, if so, whether that doctrine applied in the underlying medical malpractice action filed by plaintiff wife and plaintiff husband against defendant doctors.

The court held that New Mexico recognized lost-chance claims, but that, as a matter of law, plaintiffs could not recover under a loss-of-chance theory because they could not show, to a reasonable degree of medical probability, that defendants' alleged negligence proximately caused plaintiff husband to lose the chance of saving his leg.

-Under the lost-chance theory, the patient may seek recovery even if the chance of a favorable outcome prior to the negligence was very slim. Every patient has a certain probability that he or she will recover from the presenting medical problem. The probability of recovery may be high-more than fifty percent; or the prognosis may be more bleak-less than fifty percent. Whether great or small, there is some chance that the person will recover. Under the loss-of-chance theory, the health provider's malpractice has obliterated or reduced those odds of recovery that existed before the act of malpractice. The patient with a greater-than-fifty-percent chance of recovery is deprived of a more promising outcome. The patient with a slim chance is deprived of the opportunity to beat the odds. Where there was once a chance of a better result, now there is a lesser or no chance.

The court held that New Mexico recognized the legitimacy of lost-chance claims, but held that, as a matter of law, plaintiff husband and plaintiff wife could not recover on their medical malpractice claim against defendant doctors under a lost-chance theory because plaintiffs failed to show that defendants' alleged malpractice proximately caused plaintiff husband's lost chance for a better result.

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