Court of Appeals Rules Medical Malpractice Suit Required to Allege Cause of Action for Improper Ambulation of Diabetic Patient Recovering from Knee Surgery As Within Realm of Professionalized Knowledge and Training

The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled a plaintiff must pursue a cause of action sounding in medical malpractice against a hospital where plaintiff broke her leg when hospital staff were removing her to ambulate as part of her recovery from knee surgery.

In Lukas v. William Beaumont Hospital (1), Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the hospital for damages alleging ordinary negligence against the hospital staff.  The hospital moved for summary disposition arguing plaintiff was instead to go through the notice and pre-suit procedures required to bring a claim sounding in medical malpractice because ambulation of a post-operative diabetic patient for rehabilitation from knee surgery requires specialized training and knowledge.  The trial court disagreed and allowed plaintiff’s suit to continue.

In this three-page, unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeals reversed.  The Court noted a claim sounds in medical malpractice if an alleged breach occurred within a “professional relationship” and if “the claim raises questions of judgment beyond the realm of common knowledge and experience.”  Slip Op. at 1, citing Bryant v. Oakpointe Villa Nursing Ctr., Inc., 471 Mich. 411, 422 (2004).  The Court stated the only question present in the case was whether the alleged conduct on the part of the hospital staff called for “expert medical judgment” which was “beyond the realm of common knowledge and experience.”

The Court reasoned that while at first glance it may appear to the lay person that it takes no special skill or knowledge to assist a person out of bed, it does take special expertise to appreciate that a diabetic, immediately post-operative patient of plaintiff’s age and weight could be injured if not properly supported while being assisted to her feet.

As the Court puts it:  “We very much doubt that it is within the realm of common knowledge and experience how to assist the ambulation of someone whose entire knee has just been surgically replaced.  The evidence was that plaintiff had a pain pump and immobilizer, and professional knowledge was required to assist the ambulation of a patient, such as plaintiff, in a way that would avoid aggravating her injury. The evidence further indicated that prior to ambulating or transferring a patient such as plaintiff, the patient must undergo a neurovascular assessment, and her pain, heart rate, and mobility must be checked. A registered nurse and a physical therapist both explained that ambulating a patient such as plaintiff required specialized medical knowledge, training, and judgment, including being able to recognize cues and utilize proper techniques that nurses are
expected to possess. Ordinary laypersons, however, would not be expected to possess such expertise.”  Slip Op. at 2.

Essentially, the Court reasoned that because the way in which one should assist a patient such as plaintiff is not within common knowledge or experience, it was not possible for a jury, unassisted my medical expertise, to truly evaluate whether defendant’s employees should have acted differently, let alone what it is they should have done. Consequently, “the reasonableness of the action can be evaluated by a jury only after having been presented the standards of care pertaining to the medical issue before the jury explained by experts.”  Thus, the case presented fundamentally as a claim involving a medical misjudgment. This was therefore a medical malpractice action.

As such, the Court concluded, plaintiff’s claim was one sounding in medical malpractice.  She was required, therefore, to provide a notice of an intent to sue before filing her complaint, and she was required to file an affidavit of merit with her complaint.  Id., citing Lockwood v. Mobile Med. Response Inc., 293 Mich. App. 17, 27-28 (2011).  The plaintiff’s lawsuit was dismissed because the filing of a complaint without the procedural prerequisites does not toll the statute of limitations.  Liggons v. Crittenton Hosp., 490 Mich. 61, 73 (2011).  The untolled two-year statute of limitations period for a medical malpractice action expired before defendant had filed its second motion for summary disposition.

Therefore, plaintiff’s lawsuit was no longer viable.

This case provides helpful guidance to medical service providers and practitioners in assessing the  parameters of medical malpractice actions and what types of treatment and care fall within the realm of those specialized medical services that are not within the realm of common knowledge and experience such that plaintiff’s are expected to clear the higher burdens placed upon them to proceed in a suit alleging medical malpractice.

About cjtucker06

Owner of law firm since July 2014; Handles all types of appellate matters and assists other lawyers with complex litigation and insurance coverage issues; Admitted to the Supreme Court of the United States, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and the State Bar of Michigan; Expertise in prosecuting and defending appeals with several significant successes in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Michigan Supreme Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals; Author of briefs amicus curiae in the Michigan Supreme Court for the Michigan Defense Trial Counsel and the Insurance Institute of Michigan; Represents Insurance Companies, Major International Business, Governmental Entities, Law Enforcement Officers and County Sheriffs. Board of Directors, Michigan Defense Trial Counsel Amicus Committee Co-Chair, Michigan Defense Trial Counsel Military - Retired Major in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps of the United States Army, Brigade Judge Advocate and Staff JAG officer for the Maneuver Training Center, Camp Grayling, Michigan; Recipient of the Army's Meritorious Service Medal (the highest medal of honor available to Soldiers serving in non-combat roles); 2012 Graduate of the Judge Advocate Officer Advanced Course, at The Judge Advocate Legal Center and School, Charlottesville, Virginia. United States Navy Reserves, Combat Warfare Qualification, January 1989 to July 2003 Former law clerk to Justice Stephen J. Markman, Michigan Supreme Court, Research Attorney, Michigan Court of Appeals. Insurance Coverage Associate Plunkett Cooney; Environmental Law Attorney at Squire Sanders, now Squire Patton Boggs; Master's Degree in Environmental Law; Environmental Law Scholar, ALI/ABA Washington, D.C., Juris Doctorate, Vermont Law School, Environmental Editor, Vermont Law Review; Treasurer and Finalist, Moot Court Advisory Board.
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