Michigan Court of Appeals Confirms That Proximate Cause Is A Question Of Fact In Medical Malpractice Cases

Category: Accidents, Personal Injury, Negligence & Medical Malpractice

In Jennifer Stamler v Anuj Mittal, M.D. and M-Amin Badawi, M.D., Case No. 325261 (March 10, 2016), the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision granting summary disposition in favor of the defendant physicians in a medical malpractice case. In reversing the trial court, the Court of Appeals held that proximate causation in a medical malpractice case is a question of fact and trial courts should not lightly grant motions for summary disposition on the issue.

The case involved allegations of negligence against the defendant physicians for prescribing and continuing plaintiff on a specific antibiotic for a urinary tract infection despite prior tests and cultures confirming that plaintiff was resistant to the antibiotic. The defendant physicians argued, amongst other things, that plaintiff improved on the antibiotic even though she was admitted to the ICU with sepsis three days after the antibiotic was prescribed. The defendant physicians asserted that plaintiff failed to establish causation because the testimony of plaintiff’s causation experts was speculative and not based on plaintiff’s medical records. The defendant physicians failed to support their motions for summary disposition with any expert testimony.

Plaintiff argued on appeal that the trial court erred in finding that the antibiotic benefitted plaintiff on the basis that the antibiotic previously worked to treat plaintiff’s prior urinary tract infection. As plaintiff emphasized, the antibiotic did not previously work to treat plaintiff because she did not previously have a urinary tract infection during the time frame referenced by the trial court. Moreover, plaintiff’s experts indisputably testified that one cannot “improve” physiologically from an antibiotic to which one is resistant. Plaintiff’s experts further testified that plaintiff’s symptoms after the antibiotic was prescribed/continued, i.e., after initial dosage through sepsis diagnosis three days after first dosage, were not consistent with improvement.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order and remanded the matter back to the trial court. The Court of Appeals agreed that the testimony of plaintiff’s experts created a question of fact on the issue of causation. The Court of Appeals found that “Stamler’s experts did not ignore facts in evidence” and found “nothing speculative in their expert opinions.” The Court of Appeals found that the trial court’s conclusion was erroneous because it “disregarded the testimony of plaintiff’s experts, resolved factual questions of causation, and failed to view the record in a light most favorable to plaintiff.” The Court of Appeals emphasized that expert witnesses are free to disagree regarding the interpretation of facts presented and that a debate among doctors regarding the propriety and efficacy of the antibiotic is a material question of fact.

Deborah Lapin, partner at Hertz Schram PC, represented the plaintiff. Deborah has extensive experience in the Michigan Court of Appeals in addition to her litigation practice. Hertz Schram PC is a leading law firm in Southeastern Michigan. The firm represents businesses, entrepreneurs and individuals in civil and criminal matters. For more information on Hertz Schram PC, follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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