Pitt-Hart v. Sanford USD Med. Ctr. – Medical Malpractice or General Negligence?

Whether an injury lawsuit sounds in medical malpractice as opposed to general negligence – or visa versa – is a critical consideration.medicaldoctor

Medical malpractice lawsuits must satisfy certain special requirements that include:

  • Shortened statutes of limitations;
  • Statutes of repose;
  • Expert witness affidavits;
  • Merit certificates.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit for general negligence doesn’t need to meet these kinds of requirements, which means filing and pursuing claims of general negligence isn’t nearly as expensive and onerous as pursuing a claim of medical malpractice.

In the recent case of Pitt-Hart v. Sanford USD Med. Ctr., the South Dakota Supreme Court was asked to determine whether a claim stemming from a fall-related injury of a patient recovering from surgery was one of general negligence or medical malpractice. 

According to court records, plaintiff underwent a knee replacement surgery at defendant hospital. The next day after surgery, while plaintiff was still hospitalized, he asked for help getting out of bed to the adjoining restroom. A patient care technician employed by defendant hospital arrived and took plaintiff to the restroom. Then, when it was time to return to bed, the tech again assisted. However, as the tech tried to help plaintiff into bed, plaintiff fell.

He was discharged from the hospital three days later.

A few months later, plaintiff began inpatient rehabilitation and then later outpatient physical therapy. The hospital offered to provide the outpatient physical therapy to claimant at no charge because his Medicare plan wouldn’t cover the additional treatments at another location. Those treatments concluded in September 2010.

Two years later, plaintiff sought additional physical therapy for what he said were the ongoing effects of injury after the fall. The hospital declined to pay for additional treatment, and plaintiff responded by filing a personal injury action in September 2012 Р three years after the fall.

Defendant responded to complaint and then filed a motion for a summary judgment, arguing this action was a medical malpractice claim and was thus time-barred. In that state, medical malpractice claims must be filed within two years and personal injury lawsuits based on general negligence within three years. (In Florida, medical malpractice lawsuits have a two-year statute of limitations and a four-year statute of repose, while personal injury claims must be filed within four years.)

The court sided with defendant hospital, granting the motion for summary judgment.

Plaintiff appealed.

There was no question here that if this was a medical malpractice claim, it would have been past the two-year statute of limitations for such actions. There are sometimes exceptions in which medical malpractice claims can be tolled under a statute of repose, but that only happens when the plaintiff did not know or could not have known of the injury or its cause until a later date. That didn’t apply here, so plaintiff’s argument was that this was a matter of general negligence.

It’s true that slip-and-fall accidents in a hospital setting could be either medical negligence or general negligence, depending on the circumstances. It would come down to whether the injury occurred in the course of the patient receiving care.

Plaintiff argued a technician is not a medical professional and was not doling out medical care. However, the named defendant (sued for vicarious liability) is the hospital, which is a health care provider.

Beyond that, the court noted this was not a case of a patient slipping and falling on an icy sidewalk or slippery floor. This involved a health care technician who allegedly dropped a post-operative knee replacement patient even though it was known patient needed help getting in and out of bed. That means there is a link between the injury suffered by plaintiff and the health care he was receiving. Thus, this is a medical malpractice claim, and unfortunately for plaintiff, that means it is time-barred.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Pitt-Hart v. Sanford USD Med. Ctr., April 13, 2016, South Dakota Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Kozlov v. AWG – Contributory Negligence in Truck Accident Lawsuit, April 1, 2016, Fort Lauderdale Medical Malpractice Attorney Blog